Arsène Wenger poured out the frustration at what he described as another “naive” Champions League moment from Arsenal that hastened a 2-0 last-16, first-leg home defeat to Barcelona and which has given them, in his estimation, only a 5% chance of progress.
The manager felt his players had managed the tie well, pressing hard and keeping their discipline, even though they had a few scares in front of their goal, when they were caught by a counterattack in the 71st minute that started inside the Barcelona penalty area. Lionel Messi finished off the move and he added the second from the penalty spot after the substitute Mathieu Flamini had fouled him only 47 seconds after coming on.
To Wenger, it brought back uncomfortable memories of last season’s exit to Monaco at the same stage, when his team lost 3-1 in the home first leg – a tie in which they were punished on the counterattack after committing men ahead of the ball.
Barcelona’s miracle worker Lionel Messi leaves Arsenal praying for one
Barney Ronay at the Emirates Stadium
He said: “We were naive. The regret I had was that once we looked like we dominate the game, we give the goal away. It was similar to Monaco last season – naive, and that is frustrating. We just gave it away. I feel we are extremely guilty and we have no excuse for that goal. We knew that if we have to keep a 0-0, we keep a 0-0. They are better than us. I believe everybody knows that. We could have won the game if we had kept the discipline until the end. And, once again, like against Monaco, exactly the same. We were caught in exactly the same way. We had two or three opportunities to stop the first goal, which we didn’t do.
“I think Barcelona are the best team in Europe but I felt there was room to beat them – that’s my biggest regret. Maybe we felt we could win the game and we lost a little bit our cautiousness to defend. We knew not to give them a counterattack. That’s when they are most dangerous.”
Wenger also lamented a lack of precision in his team’s buildup play and the lack of composure in front of goal. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain snatched at a big chance on 23 minutes and Arsenal have now drawn blanks in five of their past eight matches. “We had an unbelievable chance in the first half and the way we finished our chances is a problem,” Wenger said. “In the final third, at the moment, we miss something. Barcelona are 95% through but we want to go there and play in the second leg. Realistically, it is very difficult, if not impossible. But we have to go there and fight.”
Luis Enrique: Nothing untoward about Gerard Piqué’s Barcelona booking
Wenger had a gripe about the dramatic manner in which he felt the Barcelona players went to ground but he admitted it did not influence the result. Luis Enrique, the Barcelona manager, also denied Gerard Piqué had got himself deliberately booked in the 85th minute at 2-0 for a foul on Danny Welbeck, who had come on as a substitute, in order to serve a suspension in the second leg.
“They are tricky,” Wenger said. “Whenever they go down, they shout. They never go down silent, so that influences the referee every time. It’s all of them. Not one goes down without shouting. But I don’t think we lost because of the referee.”