Arsene Wenger was never going to come out and say that Arsenal are out of the Champions League, as we still have the second leg against Barcelona at the Nou Camp to play in a couple of weeks. But after we conceded that penalty and Lionel Messi converted it to give the Spanish champions a two goal cushion, the Frenchman had to accept that everything points to another European exit at the first knockout stage.
As the boss admitted in his post match comments reported by the Arsenal website, Barcelona are almost through, although he did also say that the Gunners would travel to Spain with the idea of beating Barca and going through, no matter how unlikely that is.
Wenger said, “Barcelona are certainly through, 95 per cent, but we want to go there and play. We are Arsenal Football Club and we will not go there to just have no chance. What we want is to focus on our next game. It’s a shame that the players have not got any satisfaction tonight because energy-wise we put absolutely everything in.”
I do think, however, that the manager’s approach to the second leg might have changed over the last couple of days and as the match gets closer I would not be surprised if he changes his mind about resting some first team players. With an FA cup replay and hopefully a quarter final against Watford to play before then and with the most important task of staying in the race for the Premier League title to consider, would it not make more sense to save our energy?
The final factor could be the fact that the ever helpful TV companies have decided to give Arsenal the early Saturday kick off for our EPL game away to Everton on the weekend after we play in Barcelona on the Wednesday night. Is it really a good idea for our first choice players to have a draining game in Spain and then just two days to rest before a crucial away clash at Everton?
Wenger may well get some stick for playing a second string side at the Nou Camp and if we had a realistic chance of going through I would agree. As it is though, should Wenger just accept that we are out of Europe?