In Depth

Messi, Coquelin or Wenger - who to blame for Arsenal defeat?

No one expected the Gunners to beat the mighty Barcelona, but that hasn't stopped the criticism

Few people gave Arsenal a prayer against Barcelona ahead of their Champions League clash last night, but that has not stopped the critics twisting the knife despite a brave performance from the Gunners.

Two goals from Lionel Messi in the final 20 minutes of the match did for Arsene Wenger's team, who showed great spirit and determination against a side widely hailed as one of the greatest ever.

Yet the critics, perhaps unkindly, are not offering much in the way of sympathy in the wake of the defeat.

Before the match, Oliver Kay of the The Times hailed a Barcelona side that has "returned to, possibly even surpassed, the levels of irresistible, jaw-dropping brilliance that they reached under [former manager] Pep Guardiola". Stopping Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar would be a "daunting challenge", he predicted. 

As it turned out, Arsenal failed, caught out when they finally committed too many men to the attack – and writing after the event, Kay says it is Wenger, rather than errant midfielders Francis Coquelin and Mathieu Flamini, who must take the blame, despite the manager's claim that his players were "naive".

He adds: "There is the nagging feeling that they lack something by way of presence, experience and discipline in the middle of the pitch. Arsenal simply do not have the players to approach a challenge such as this with confidence. Naivety? It takes different forms."

It is a similar story at the Daily Mail, where Neil Ashton wrote beforehand of the "extraordinary effort" that would be required to beat a Barcelona side that has "been taken to new heights under impressive coach Luis Enrique".

But his conclusion now is that Arsenal "are not good enough, certainly not at this level".

Ashton writes: "They have been found out again, coming up short against this Barcelona side determined to win the European Cup for a sixth time. Luis Enrique's team were far from their best at the Emirates and that is perhaps the saddest indictment of all about this Arsenal team - Barcelona did not need to be."

To beat the Catalan side, Arsenal would need to show "a level of concentration, defensive structure and tactical expertise that has been evident only sporadically" in recent seasons, warned Daniel Taylor of The Guardian before the match.

But in the end, they got a "brutal lesson" he writes. Yet he is rather more charitable in the aftermath of defeat. "For long spells, they subdued Barcelona in a way that few could have anticipated," he says. "They chased and they harried and they were holding their own against the most beautifully constructed club side there has ever been until that exhilarating burst of play when Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez suddenly clicked into gear."

In reality, there was little Arsenal could have done, argues Paul Hayward of the Daily Telegraph, who instead hails the mighty "MSN" partnership of Messi, Suarez and Neymar.

Are the trio "a Best, Law and Charlton for the Xbox age", as he claims, or possibly even better? Maybe they are. Hayward later lauds them as "arguably the greatest attacking trio since Alfredo Di Stefano, Francisco Gento and Ferenc Puskas in the illustrious Real Madrid sides of the Fifties and Sixties".

Either way, "Arsenal lack the majesty to engage in a straight talent contest with three megastars".

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