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Life, the universe, the champions league

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Life, the Universe, the champions league…

By Walter Broeckx

In life we should learn things and yesterday was a night where we could learn a lot.

Let me start by something that is really easy to say when you know what happened but I hope that some things will be remembered and we don’t do the same thing again.

When you play a team like Barcelona you need 11 players that are fully fit. Before last weekend Gallas was nowhere to the first team and after 3 days in training he came in to start the game.

He had to stop after 40 minutes and who knows how long he had his injury back befor ? Wenger admitted it was a gamble and that it had failed. So next time I would suggest not to gamble anymore and just go for the fitter player.

What we do not know is if Campbell would have been fit 100 % after the weekend game. So I can understand that Wenger went for Gallas but now we know it would have been better to start without him and give him rest until Saturday and than he could have been fit and stay fit.

Arshavin was not in the starting line up on Saturday because he had a little injury and he clearly was not fully fit at the start of the game. But once again I can understand Wenger that he wanted to play one of the most experienced players we have in such a game.

I think a fully fit Arshavin could have made an impact in the second half when Barca got tired and then he could have done the some damage with his runs. Unfortunately, by then he was out and replaced by Eboue.

Cesc was not fit. But he was desperate to play he made himself fit. He did all he could to get on the pitch but in fact, he never came in to the game. He was invisible for most of the game and one could see that he was not ready for a game like that. His leg let him down even before the penalty kick. But what he did do was try his best but if you are running on one leg against Barcelona you can not bring what you could do.



Those 3 players are players that we knew would be a risk, for those who have paid attention the last days that is, and it could be seen on the pitch. Also Diaby was named as doubtful after the Birmingham game and he also had not his best day on the pitch. Is this a coincidence ? I think not.

When you play the best team you want your best players to play and you take a gamble but a gamble can work out but it can turn against you.

Last night it did turn against us. You need 11 players who can give 100 % and if you have 3 or 4 players that can only give 50 % than this is a big loss when you play Barcelona.

But the good thing is that the players who came on the pitch and who were fully fit showed that they could change the game. Eboue was one of our best players, Denilson was great in the second half and Walcott was showing what he can do on his day.

Those players were 100 % fit and from the moment they were all on the field we had some 9 players giving 100% and suddenly the game changed. We still had two players not fully fit, Cesc and Diaby, but suddenly we were in the game.

So the lesson could be that if you have to make a choice between a nut fully fit “best” player and a fully fit “team” player, in those games it could be better to take the fully fit player. He will be able to run the whole 90 minutes and put pressure on the opponents.

If I would have been Wenger I would have taken the same starting 11 he did, but now I would do it different. I would chose the fit ones.

Many fans think it is over and lost. Next week no Cesc, no Arshavin, no Gallas. I just say so what ?

We can hope that the players who should fill the gap will be 100% fit. Let Nasri take over from Cesc, he can do it. Let Eboue take over from any one on the pitch and he will do the job. Let us just pick 100% fit players next week and then we will see if Barcelona can run around like they did yesterday in the first hour. And if they can… then we can only take off our hat and take a bow for the currently best team in the world.

And if we manage to do some magic with a fully fit team, it will be clear from now on that you have not only to pick the best team but also the fittest team. We came back from a lost position and after all the set backs with injured and not fit players we managed to get a lifeline for next week.

Just go for it Gunners, just remember the last 20 minutes of this game when we took over and if Cesc wouldn’t have broken his leg I think we still could have won the game against all odds but it could have happened.

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34 comments to Life, the universe, the champions league

  • hartwick89

    Walter….
    I saw a different version of the why. Although you definately make me re-think my viewpoint..

    I see the pace of the game inducing injury… I believe that any of our players were at an increased risk of injury and not Barcelona due to a more granular look at schedules, week in and week out physicality, and who we have played thus far…not to mention La Liga starting two weeks post EPL…

    The most compelling piece to lessons learned is a belief rather than injury I think although if the above were fully fit it wouldve helped. A belief what can be done by one team who practices that… We are just there physically. Now with the help of that first 17min clinic… We can begin to accomplish what we saw!

  • Rhys Jaggar

    You are clearly a Signor Capello fan, Walter!

    This has happened before. Henry’s last game for Arsenal was a Champions League game when he wasn’t fit and was out the rest of the season after that. I wonder if UEFA and the media put pressure on managers?? It is not right if they do.

    I was amazed Gallas played last night. Amazed. Saddened for him for his injury. I hope it’s not too long. He has earned the right to play in a final World Cup and, quite frankly, he had earned the right to participate in an EPL run-in where Arsenal could possibly win the title. We will see how long he is out.

    I think this shows the need for a true squad of 25 players. You can’t really expect players to remain injury free if they play more than 40 high-intensity games in the most intense positions like Fabregas or a centre forward. So you need true squad players who can play really regularly without the results being too badly affected. Eboue and Sagna are one such pairing. Clichy and Gibbs/Traore will be soon. Denilson/Ramsey. Fabregas/Nasri.

    It’s getting there.

  • Paul C.

    Rhys – that is where the injury to Djourou hit us so hard this season. He would have been that 3rd central defender and had AW known last summerf he would miss the season I am certain he would have bought another defender. That was a really tough blow for him and for the team.

  • tim

    Walter, nice analysis. Wenger gambled with the walking wounded, and this time he lost. I agree with you — that he should’ve played the fittest players — but Wenger would’ve been second-guessed no matter what decision he made. Had Arshavin, Cesc, Diaby, and Gallas not played, the knives would’ve still been out today.

    Seeing Cesc deliver a performance on one leg was sight to see. He is truly selfless, and a true Gunner.

    I’m so proud of our team, and I’m confident about the return leg.

    Our team will bring it at Camp Nou, and as long as it’s a good performance, I’ll be happy.

    Last night’s match was the toughest mental challenge our young team has ever faced. We took everything Barca could throw at us, and we clawed our way back.

    The only way is up from here. Our team has the heart of champions, and they will soon take the place of Barca as the best team in the world.

  • Davi

    I really want to know why wenger doesnt use eboue more.
    He has been one of our best players over the last month or so, but inexplicably wenger left him out completely against birmingham, and I thought that was a major factor in our failure to win.
    I wondered why he didnt play any part and many people assumed it might be because he was saving him for this game against barca, but he still chose to leave him on the bench from the start.
    I think eboue is one of our most talented, and more importantly one of our most effective players, whether at RB or RW, and it’s crazy to have considered leaving him out of this game. We have many skillful players in our squad, but none that can combine that with such pace and strength, not even diaby it seems. He has some slight faults to his game, but who doesn’t? His qualities are too important to ignore.
    He is too good to keep leaving out, and to be honest, if we are going to win our last few premier league games, eboue has to play in every one of them I think. He dominates the lesser teams and really takes the pressure off fabregas and others; and he is very effective offensively and defensively against the big teams.

  • walter

    If you just take Gallas, Cesc and Arshavin and they can only play at 50% of their normal best. This means that in every line you have one player missing and that just is too much in a such a game. If you include Diaby, it would almost mean that you start the game with 9 players and not 11. I think it is no coincidence that we came in to the game from the moment that our first injured player left the field. At that time we went from 9 players to 9,5. When Gallas came off we went to 10 fit players.

    If you look at it like that you could say that we did not play with 11 fit man on the pitch during the whole game. And still managed a 2-2. My god it begins to feel like a victory. 😉
    But this is just what I think about it.

  • isaic

    Arsenal was slaughtered at our own game tonight. I cannot but marvel at the fact Barcelona is very much what Arsenal is going to be in the next 2 to 4 years. Perhaps with fitter players like you suggested, Walter, it might have been a different game… As the game wore on, Barca began to tire and then all the spaces that they were closing down began to open up.what i saw was believe in Arsenal… This word, believe, is what is pushing Arsenal to breaking all barriers.

  • Scott

    Walter; I disagree (although you thoughts are well reasoned). At another website I blogged yesterday that Wenger should have gone with Sol as opposed to Gallas because Barca would be too much for Gallas as his first game back. Additionally, Campbell and TV5 have formed a fantastic partnership and understanding. Why break that up now? I think we would have been much stronger in the second half with Campbell because Song would have provided the shield for Campbelll and TV5 as he always does. I do not think Denilson is as good as Song as the holding midfielder. I absolutely disagree with Wenger moving Song to CB and bringing Denilson on. Why not bring on Campbell as a direct sub for Gallas? We have enough cover for Wollves at the weekend and that way we could have also saved Campbell for Tuesday. I think it is time Wenger gives Cruise a run out in the EPL. Wolves would be a great opportunity for him. If not, there is always Silvestre . . .

  • critic

    glad somebody heard me on this blog!!!U put things as it were Mr. walter which is a brave thing on this blog. Couldn’t agree more.

  • Paul C.

    Scott – there is a big difference between the typical PL striker and Messi and Zlatan. Sol has lost his pace, and pace is what was needed last night. That is why the gamble on Gallas was worth it. If he lasts 90 minutes then AW is a genius. It failed so he is a bum. That is the way it goes but the gamble was absolutely right. Eventually Gallas has to play and since he had already broken down once with that injury then waiting was senseless. Get him in and see how he can do. Song has far more pace than Sol so moving him back to CB after Gallas left the field was the logical decision. And that allowed Denilson to come onto the pitch, who was our best player.

    And Cruise????? My goodness, what brought that one on? The guy is our 4th choice leftback, why should he suddenly play? Are you suggesting he play in central defense????????? Based on what?? Where on earth did that come from?

  • jeeniac

    after the game every one is talking about walcott and a limping fabregas..but the true hero of the day is being totally forgotten..it was Denilson..without a shadow of a doubt.. song failed to impose himself as we would expect him to do at the middle that was the root of all problems..cos diaby was not able to keep the ball and fabregas coudnt do it all alon without support..but once denilson came on.. he was every where ..makin vital interceptions..breaking barca moves..and starting ones of our own..we started to get more possession of the ball.. and then it was ther for the world to see what arsenal is capable of when they have the ball..near the final whistle barca was almost trembling ..the pace of walcott and directness of eboue was too much to handle..but i think against lesser physical and more tactical teams like barcca denilsoon is a key man..more than a strong slow CDM a smaller agile denilson is the key!

  • ziv

    I understand your thoughts but don’t agree, to face a team like Barcelona Wenger had to select the best player available even to gamble, he didn’t do that when facing Birmingham. Furthermore, we can’t judge a gamble is wrong because lose it, we know it before it could lose.
    And we didn’t lose everything, we fought back and knew that the remain player can still play the game well, so let us be positive.

  • muheto

    Fellow Gunners, there will always be one Arsenal and one Arsene
    I see VICTORY at Nou Camp

    count on me

  • walter

    I just would like to say what I said in my article that on this moment, when we have counted the injured players, it is easy to make a comment.

    And I also would like to underline that I would have done the same if I would have been Wenger before the game.
    I’m not here to criticise Wenger for what he did yesterday when he picked the team. We, at home, were delighted that Cesc and Gallas were back and could play.

    I just tried to think about what I saw and try to find an explanation for what went wrong and why it could have happened and I came up with this.
    It could well be that I am totally wrong on this but I just had a feeling that some players did not perform like they could and that those players went off injured or stayed on the pitch untill the end but never really played like we know they can. This was my thoughts based on what I saw and maybe I will see the game again this evening and come up with a different.

    But I still do think that to have any succes against Barcelona the whole team has to be 100 % fit. We could have crushed any team in the PL maybe with this team and the shape the players were in, bot not against a team like Barcelona.

  • Paul C.

    Walter – I can see what you are saying but to me the problem, as it has been against Chelsea and Utd, was mental and not physical. There is just something holding us back. I have no idea what it is. We just seem to get all nervous and tentative. I do think we missed some pace that Walcott provided but there is more to it. I wish I knew what it was and I am sure that AW wishes he knew. At this stage in the season EVERYONE is carrying injuries of one sort or another, on both teams, and you just hope people last the season. I think you have to play people if they pass their fitness tests (which everyone did) and then just cross your fingers and hope.

    I just wonder what all this has done to Gallas’s contract talks, and also to potential interest from other teams. If I was Roma, or PSG, and saw Gallas breaking down AGAIN last night after only half an hour I’d be seriously wondering just how badly I wanted to tear him away from Arsenal. If he was 25 it would be a different scenario, but at 32 years old can any team, including Arsenal, ever trust that Gallas will be able to last a whole season anymore?

  • Finsbury

    The weather didn’t help.

    It’s no coincidence that players across the board drop like lemmings during a cold snap, the frequency of strains shoots right up, it seems.
    Factor in the existing bruising for AA & Gallas, and the odds weren’t in their favour.

    But as seen with the decision to play Cesc,
    sometimes the heart must rule the head.
    Inspiring stuff.

  • walter

    So Cesc out for six weeks. This means he could be back in time for the CL final ?

  • Wonderman

    Walter interesting post and I think spot on. Since we moved to the Emirates no team has had SO MUCH possession at our ground without response. The first 20/30 minutes were unprecedented. However, looking at the game from where I sit, the team seemed to play as if they had been told to let Barca have the ball in certain areas. There was no pressing what so ever. Arshavin has looked unfit for several weeks now, Gallas was purely a gamble and Cesc has been putting his body on the edge for months, so it is no surprise that those three are now busted. I agree entirely that it was no coincidence that once our quota of fully fit players on the pitch increased so did the level of our performance

  • Flint McCullough

    Absolutely agree Walter.

    A less than fully fit player is a handicap & the game did start to change with the introduction of Eboue then Denilson, who with Nasri were excellent in the 2nd half & started getting possession for Theo to show what he can really do.

    But what a game. A privilege to see such movement & invention in that first 40 minutes countered by Arsenal finding so much at the end that if we had another 5 minutes we could have won it.

  • D-Sanchez-Cabello

    Interesting article, Walter. – love the blog, have been reading for ages without posting.

    From watching the game yesterday,it seems that playing against teams with the technique and precision of Barca. The physical game is redundant. Denilson and Eboue must start… Denilson with his interceptions,pass completion and general footballing brain; Eboue with his directness and power will cause them all kinds of problem.
    Lets hope the El Classico is a strenuous one!

    keep the optimism.

  • Mark

    Personally, I don’t understand why Wenger played Cesc in the first place.
    I thought he was playing mind games before the match, but no, he really did play a 40% fit Fab on a wing and a prayer.

    But that was the big problem. Diaby and Song were on defensive full alert, fully tied up watching Messi, so any change in tempo would have to come through Cesc, and he wasn’t at the races.

    In the end the injury to Gallas was a kind of blessing in disguise……at least it opened the door for Denilson who should have been playing from the start.

    The last 20 minutes Barca looked like rabbits in the headlights……..

    the return could be anything from 8-0 to Barca to 3-0 to us.

    Will be interesting who is fit, and how Wenger lines up the team to create enough attacking options……

  • Keith

    Re “belief” someone I know that works at Arsenal said that when the draw was announced that we would play Barca, Bendtner was overheard to say to Nasri “well that’s us battered then!”

    This person would not lie to me but it highlights that against the big teams we lack belief. It was transparent with Diaby’s below par performance I think he literally froze.

    Wenger needs to drum into them that when we worked hard and drove at them they panicked and we could have nicked it in the end.

    It was truly a fantastic game which I feel privileged to have attended even though I was screaming for our players to close them down especially in the first 20 mins.

  • Lanre

    Walter, the article kinda make sense. I know very well it would have been greatly different had we had 100% 11 players out there yesterday. But Walter, why do you think we are having so much injuries in recent years? Can we attribute it to the kind of training the lads go thru, dietary or what? Me, i think it comes down to the kicks we get in games. Most of which goes unnoticed. Can u do an article on our injury problems?

  • Lanre

    We can only take positives from the game. To some extent we gave a good account of ourselves despite having not too fit players in the squad. Granted, Barca are the best in the world, i expectd a performance from them. My only was my team. We showed them too much respect n gave them to much room. But tell me peeps, how many teams make a comeback against the current great Barca team. Perhaps, the gunners.

  • jbh

    There is a lot of misplaced arguments flying around today (as usual when there is anything but a resounding win). Lets look at some facts.
    1. Arsenal is currently ranked no 4 in Eur (up from 38th when AW first started as mgr), Barcelona is 1st so expect a close contest. Its not men against boys its the best tie of the quarters and a match that would grace a final (as it did in 06).
    2. 2-2 is a typical result, and no one would be surprised by this before hand – ignore the nonsense media which all of a sudden is now quoting stats about how Barca bashed Arsenal (is this not what Arsenal do to other teams week in week out without any praise?)
    3. Gallas was declared fit to train last week and trained for 4 days, he wouldn’t play unless he and AW were convinced he could.
    4. Arshavin was rested last weekend (came on late against Birm, but wouldn’t have played at all against Birm unless he was fit). AW often says someone has a niggle in order not to give the opposition motivation that he is resting the stars. Arshavin stated categorically that this is a new injury he got in the game.
    5. Fabregas was fit to play absolutely and would not have played unless able to. What is the proof for this? Look at the stats for the distances the players ran during the game – Xavi top with 12.66 km, Fab 2nd with 12.25km, Denilson ran 6.54 in half a game!). There is no way Fabregas could run that much if he wasn’t fit, and he was only walking for the last 8 mins! Fabregas said he was fine until the foul by Puyol on him.

    Lastly, I wouldn’t question AW except one thing. Last home game AW played Song, Den, and Cesc in midfield against West Ham. He usually only plays the 2 def mids (Song and Den) for the top teams, and plays say Song, Diaby and Cesc against the lower teams. So I thought that this was a trial run out for the formation he would use last night (but he used Sagna and Diaby instead of Eboue and Den as starters last night). Diaby, great talent that he is, is an offensive midfielder, he does not have the discipline of Song and especially Denilson in the defensive mid role, so it was strange to start him in preference to Denilson. 5 offensive players and only 1 Def midfielder against Barca is a big risk and sure enough Barca dominated possession.

    At the end of the day you have to also accept that Barca played brilliantly for large parts of the game, give them credit for that. The overall distance numbers however were virtually the same (Ars 113.6km, Barca 113.9km). Arsenal came back well into and thoroughly deserved the draw.

  • Ham

    Isn’t time we re called Senderos??????

  • well-endowed gooner

    We were outplayed in the first half, and there’s no shame in that. We fought back from a 0-2 deficit, and that’s something to be proud of. I’m confused about Almunia’s contribution because he kept us in it in the first half, and then spoiled it by conceded two weak goals. Better safe than sorry though, so I still think we should replace him in the summer.

  • well-endowed gooner

    And I think Cesc and Arshavin have been playing injured for a while now. It’s the nature of playing a long season with a thin squad.

  • walter

    Jbh, about Cesc being fit yes he could run, that is for sure. But was he fit enough to play football ? That is the question.
    I remember from my last week as a footballer (I played in 2 different clubs one sat and one on sunday in 2 different organisations at that time).
    On saturday I played in midfield and had a great game from the start. I got some rough tackles coming in and one hit me on the shin and it bruised my bone. It hurt, it got swollen a bit on the place of impact but I carried on. But after that I could run but when I kicked the ball it was as if the ball did not do what I wanted to happen. My passes were hopeless, to hard, to soft just as if I had lost my ball feeling.
    On sunday we did not have to play and I had a lot of pain during the week.
    On Saturday again in midfield and I played bad. I could run but again no proper contact with the ball could be made.
    On Sunday one dangerous tackle and my leg was completely broken (something between Eduardo and Ramsey event) and career finished.

    When I spoke with the docter and told all this he said it was typical for a very minor burst of the bone. You can still walk and run with some pain, but because of the burst you lose the natural suppleness of the bone and it is as if you can not kick like before. All you then need is one heavy contact and the bone will break.

    Not saying it went like that but it ressembled what I have had long ago.

    One thing can be sure : Cesc really is one hell of a player.

  • Lanre

    You bet he is. I personally he is a better captain than TH14. That’s my own opinion. He is like the silent leader. Shows it on the pitch too. Pity he wont be available to add more goals n assists to his great season. El Capitan!

  • Wayne

    I was watching the game with a group of friends..and when the second goal went in ….i have to confess…i told them that it was all over. But I also added that from this point that Arsenal are going to play much better from now on till the end of the game. And they did just that.

    There was definitely an element of a never say die attitude…but i thought that as soon as it became 2-0..the pressure suddenly lifted ..and the boys thought that since it’s all over might as well go for it ..and that was the point that Barca backtracked.

    I’m not blaming the team for failing to adapt to pressure…and with a young team you can almost expect it….part of the learning phase and they will learn to adapt with more experience.

    But this is the very reason that I feel confident of the game at the Nou Camp ….. all things said and done…Barca are the clear favorites now and all the pressure is on them. In situations like these the Gunners thrive…Go Gunners!

  • walter

    I just read in the newspapers in Belgium that the thinking that Cesc was already having the burst in his fibula is being examined ?

  • jbh

    Walter, you raise a good point re weakening from severe bruising. I think its happened 3 times this season. Vermaellen (leg bone) played and came through ok. Gibbs (foot) unfortunately broke his metatarsal in the final minutes (I think from a 30 yard shot on goal), and Cesc. It was clear that Cesc was not himself in the later stages of the Birm game and there is no way that the Puyol tackle would normally crack a bone. But it was a risk that he and Arsenal were prepared to take, and his distance run, and effort was amazing.

  • Gtr gooner

    I think we really need to rotate squad against wolves. My message to almighty wenger that rest all doubtful and tired players. Get a plan to tackle barca which i think wenger will do his homework and what we did at bernabeu and san siro we’ll do that again at nou camp against all odds.