Much of the reaction to Arsenal’s defeat at Atheltico Madrid has been unnecessarily spiteful and wholly without perspective.
I was as disappointed as any fan that the Gunners couldn’t find a way to get past Diego Simeone’s side on Thursday, particularly in their inability to at least find the net, but a great deal of the post-match reaction – from both fans and pundits – was melodramatic and, frankly, detached from reality.
Madrid are among the best sides in Europe and have an astonishing track record of success over the last decade, built on the back of notoriously miserly defence, coupled with a succession of world class strikers at the other end of the pitch (think Torres, Aguero, Costa, and Griezmann).
The draw for the semi-final, when it was made, was the one most of us had dreaded, and rightly so. Madrid are a team with serious pedigree and not one we could have expected to bend so easily to our will, as we did AC Milan or CSKA Moscow. Frankly, those matches were a breeze.
Why some were so aghast that we were unable to put five or six goals past Madrid is, therefore, quite staggering. Simeone’s side are among the best at what they do and so they proved over two legs against the Gunners. Their organisation and focus in defence was unbelievable.
Despite that, I thought Arsenal were the better side in both matches. They played some excellent football and created some very presentable chances against a seriously talented team. But for some superb goalkeeping and a fair helping of bad luck, it would be Arsenal heading into the final.
In truth, the match was lost as much on our inability to capitalise on the numerical advantage enjoyed in the first leg as it was on two costly defensive errors.
Madrid deserved absolutely nothing from their visit to the Emirates but they must be afforded credit in the way they were able to keep Arsenal to just a single goal, before seizing on a single moment of misfortune to come away with a draw.
On another day, we would have come away with two or three goals or, at worst, not conceded such a needless goal.
As for Thursday’s second leg, again I think the Gunners were the better side. They were good in possession, forward-thinking, and lacked only for some better decision-making in the final third.
That we allowed another defensive folly to blot our copybook came as little of a surprise and seemed to come foremost to the minds of those who watched, at the expense of everything else the team had done.
Taken as a whole, the two legs were a story of fine margins and frustration for Arsenal and of remarkable resilience, ruthlessness and good fortune for Madrid. That’s the way it goes and that’s the difference between a top side, and a side seeking to get back to that level.
That much-needed perspective was, sadly, lost on so many fans who were again calling for this player or that player to be sold, for Arsene Wenger to walk now, or for a boycott of the final weeks of the season.
It was all very reminiscent of watching a toddler denied a favourite toy or a bar of chocolate. It was all red-faced and petulant, gilded with unbridled anger – as if narrow defeat against one of the continent’s best sides was the darkest, most humiliating moment in the club’s history.
A sad end to an unrivalled era, of course, but there was pride in defeat, and certainly no shame in going down as we did.
Many had expected another 10 per cent from the team, given the debt so many of them owe to Arsene, but I don’t think anyone can be accused of not giving their best across both games. Mistakes happen – disproportionately so at Arsenal, admittedly – but that doesn’t mean someone isn’t giving their best.
Among the most disappointing things post match was the traditional attack on Mesut Ozil, as if it was somehow his fault entirely for the defeat. Frankly, I thought we were past this sort of childish blame game, but it would seem not.
Mesut is not, and has never been, the type of player to single-handedly snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. He is not Lionel Messi. He is a key cog in a wheel that, when functioning at its best, turns in sublime fashion. His creativity, vision, and passing, is near unmatched in world football. That he didn’t bag a hat-trick on Thursday is not surprising but, given the vitriol aimed at him after the match, you would think he had personally promised everybody’s nan that he would do so. It was bizarre.
Perhaps it was all borne out of frustration, which I understand to an extent. After all, who hasn’t switched off a match with 10 minutes to go after Arsenal have conceded three goals in two minutes, or something equally ridiculous?
It is the lack of context that rankles. So many of the ‘here and now’ generation of fans are divorced from reality that it creates a chorus of negativity from which the laziest of pundits feed and regurgitate, as if they are the mouthpiece of the people.
While Arsenal are capable of beating any team on their day, in any competition, they simply cannot win every one of the 50 or so games they play every season. It is not possible. Defeat is inevitable.
It doesn’t have to be enjoyable, but it shouldn’t be greeted with a reaction akin to a global crisis.
If fans can’t rein in the worst of their nature, we risk a generation of underachievement as managers and players come and go on the whims of social media. The new manager is going to need time but, if we carry on sulking as we do now, I worry for just how much time the new guy will be afforded.