Arsenal withered the early storms caused by Barcelona and came out with a brave 2-2 draw in the first leg of their Champions League quarterfinal tie.
It was always going to be a difficult task to play against a tactically disciplined Barcelona side. However, the miseries were doubled in the early part of the game when Arsenal lost Andrei Arshavin and William Gallas to injuries, forcing Wenger to make two substitutions in the first half itself.
Almunia's excellent reflexes kept Arsenal in the game, but Barcelona scored the deserved goal immediately after the start to the second half. Ibrahimovic doubled the lead after a few minutes with a brilliant strike from a narrow angle.
Almunia's poor positioning made it simple for Ibrahimovic to lob in the first goal.
This game again reiterated the fact that a good team cannot sustain without a good goalkeeper. Had Almunia stayed back on the near-post, it would have taken a wonder strike from Ibrahimovic to score the first goal from that constrict angle, instead Almunia decided to make the work easy for the former Inter Milan striker.
Alright, in the first half Almunia's performance was world class, but you would expect a world class goalkeeper to perform at the same level throughout the game. However, Almunia's mood changed in the second half. Actually, some poor finishing aided Almunia's cause.
Ibrahimovic was nothing but a liability in the first half. Later in the second half he rightly showed why he belongs to the elite category of the best paid strikers in the world with two superb finishes.
The player under the scanner is Alex Song. He was forced to play as a centre-back following William Gallas' departure. Ibrahimovic easily broke the offside trap on both occasions and Song's inexperience as a centre-back was evident.
I have been criticizing Wenger's poor transfer dealings since the January transfer window and yesterday's game perfectly epitomised Wenger's failure to estimate the crisis situation beforehand.
No football team can play with two centre-backs throughout the season. There would be injuries, bookings, and suspensions. Arsenal's injury record is baffling and they only had two quality centre-backs from the start of the season.
So, naturally one would've expected Arsenal to sign another defender in the January window to strengthen that aspect of the game. But Wenger's plain cheap policy paved the way for the come back of a 35+ defender, who has lost considerable amount of pace. He's good but only against the bottom half clubs in the domestic competition.
Coming to Gallas' injury, he has been forced to play with niggling injuries and that made the situation worse, gradually resulting in a long term injury. Wenger tried to rush him once before, but he collapsed in training.
Again, yesterday Wenger tried to rush him and it only helped to aggravate his injury further, probably ensuring that Gallas stays out for the rest of the season.
What made Wenger to rush Gallas not once but twice?
Lack of quality centre-backs.
Wenger is the only one responsible for this crisis situation. He should have strengthened the backline instead of opting to shove the available cash into his transfer kitty without spending it according to the needs of the team.
On the other hand, Arshavin's injury might be a blessing in disguise for Arsenal. He has been pathetic in the recent games. His form has diminished considerably and he looks a shadow of his previous self.
His casual approach to the game was again evident against Barcelona with misplaced passes and ridiculous challenges. In fact, Arsenal improved once when Arshavin departed. His presence is not doing any good to the team and needs to get his focus back. He must stop dictating Wenger by going public with his opinions on the need for more top-notch players at Arsenal.
Finally, it was embarrassing to find a team, even if that is Barcelona, keeping more than 70 percent of possession against Arsenal in one half of the game at Emirates.
Flocks would be surprised to find a draw after total domination by Barcelona, but it was pathetic to find Arsenal players running like mad imps to get a touch of the ball. They never had any idea of how to win the ball back and Wenger must address the situation soon, before the second leg.
The decision to keep a high backline is also questionable.
Wenger must tighten the defensive screws before the second leg, but where are the defenders to do that? The entire backbone of the team is on the treatment table and you shouldn't expect anything more from this team now, especially without Fabregas.