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Can Wenger fill the gap?

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Phil McNulty | 10:04 UK time, Monday, 4 May 2009

Arsene Wenger's managerial cv is scarred by the absence of a European trophy - and he admits the failure to win the Champions League also represents a gap in Arsenal's rich history.

So it will be with a sense of personal and professional mission that Wenger sends Arsenal out to face Manchester United in the Champions League semi-final second leg at The Emirates on Tuesday.

Failure to overturn United's 1-0 lead, an advantage which should have been more given Arsenal's obvious inferiority at Old Trafford, will make it four years without silverware for Wenger, a statistic that was unthinkable when the FA Cup was won against these same opponents in 2005.

One thing that has not altered since that day in Cardiff has been Wenger's iron-clad belief in Arsenal's players - and it was on show again at Old Trafford last week when we saw him in buoyant and bullish mood after an uncharacteristically timid loss.

Wenger assured Europe's media that we would see a different Arsenal on home turf - now we will discover if will be proved right or if it was a game of bluff and bravado designed to lift his beaten players.

Wenger has faced doubters before and prevailed - Manchester United were the opponents when Arsenal backed their manager's words with actions in a thrilling win at The Emirates in November.

And it is performances of that quality that presumably made Wenger so confident Arsenal will emerge victorious against United - even inviting one questioning journalist to his post-match news conference on Tuesday, where he would presumably be delighted to chew that fat with him about a landmark victory.

It will, however, take a mirroring of their manager's utter conviction if Arsenal are to achieve the double target of not only scoring against United, but guarding against the away goal that could see Wenger retain his status as one of the greatest coaches never to win a European crown.

Andrey Arshavin is ineligible, so much responsibility will fall on the creative forces of Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri, Emmanuel Adebayor and, if fit, Robin van Persie.

But it is Arsenal's weakened defence that will pose the greatest threat to their ambitions. Simple maths says one goal for United means Arsenal will need three - and they did not resemble a team who could achieve that against Sir Alex Ferguson's team at any point in the first meeting.

arsene

This did not shake Wenger's spirit or optimism in the moments following that loss, and he will be hoping to transmit that to his players.

United boss Ferguson was a mixture of delight and disappointment as he followed Wenger into Old Trafford's media suite, the pleasure of not conceding a goal shielding him slightly from the pain of knowing a three-goal victory margin would have been a more realistic measure of his team's supremacy.

Ferguson has other concerns, with Wayne Rooney, Carlos Tevez and Patrice Evra one yellow card away from missing a potential final meeting with Chelsea or Barcelona in Rome later this month.

Rio Ferdinand's return alongside Nemanja Vidic will give Ferguson added re-assurance - but Wenger will see this as a day of destiny for Arsenal and the opportunity to move a step closer to filling that space in his and the great north London club's trophy collection.

Over at Stamford Bridge, the clash of cultures between Chelsea and Barcelona continues with a second leg that is too close to call after a contentious first game in the Nou Camp.

What is certain - despite the bleatings of Barcelona - is that Chelsea coach Guus Hiddink once again tailored his tactics to suit the occasion and only Didier Drogba's failure to take a presentable first-half chance stopped them just short of perfection.

Hiddink's cautious approach was vindicated by Barcelona's subsequent slicing up of a Real Madrid side that was effectively forced to go on the offensive at The Bernabeu. The Dutch coach is too wise to try and please the purists at the expense of pragmatism and the moans coming out of Catalonia had a hollow - and indeed familiar - ring.

He will now have to conjure up a tactical approach which will be delicately balanced between attacking intent and caution, with Barcelona a huge threat, despite their recent Champions League disappointments against Premier League opposition.

Chelsea hold the slightest of advantages, but having shown they can hold Barcelona they must now demonstrate they can beat them - and the unjustified words of criticism aimed in the direction of Stamford Bridge from the Nou Camp will provide the perfect incentive.

Comments

Page 1 of 3

  • Comment number 1.

    I don't think Wenger can close the gap this season.

    The injuries to their key defensive players, a cup tied Arshavin and a not at his best Fabregas counts heavily against them and they just don't have enough against Man U.

  • Comment number 2.

    If it is true that Henry is out for Wedneday's game, then that probably does give Chelsea the very slightest advantage. Before hearing that news I would have given Barcelona the slight advantage.

  • Comment number 3.

    As an Arsenal Fan i am perplexed as to why Wenger is so confident. We are barley a top 4 tema, and if Arshavin had not arrived we would've been 6th in the table this moment in time!!!

  • Comment number 4.

    Nice blog, but I do vividly remember the 2005 cup final in which Man United battered Arsenal but failed to score. I don't think the gunners managed a single shot on goal throughout the game, and held on for pens. Despite Arsenal win, to most observers it signalled the emergence of United's young team as real title challengers rather than anything from Arsenal. Man United look likely to win their 5 or 6th major trophy since that afternoon, while Arsenal have struggled for consistency since.

    Man United after a potentially season wrecking wobble in March, appear to have got themselves back on track, player again with confidence and authority all over the park. It should be a cracking game on Tuesday, but really it's United's to lose...

  • Comment number 5.

    Arsene Wenger will need a revolutionary change of tactics to even hold united or score against them. Keeping a clean sheet appears even more unlikely. The smart money is on the Red Devils

  • Comment number 6.

    If Utd do score, I think that will be curtains for Arsenal. I can't see them scoring 3 against Utd. They did score 4 at Anfield but 3 of them goals were down to mistakes, although Arshavin still had a bit to do). I just can't see Utd making mistakes, unfortunately! However, I'd love to see an Arsenal/ Barca final.

  • Comment number 7.

    As for me, You are the best sports writer in the world. You have

    unbiased view of the chances of all for teams in the semi final. You

    should have followed it with a clear prediction. Early on, you gave the

    premiership to chelsea. Do you think that chelsea is good for the

    premiership but blew it at home or they are not good enough?

  • Comment number 8.

    You have Tevez as also being under threat of missing the final if booked, but the link you posted only mentions Rooney & Evra. Anyone got a definitive answer on this?

  • Comment number 9.

    I would not be at all surprised if both games went to penalty kicks. I hope Barcelona get to the final to meet either Man U or Arsenal. At least then we can look forward to a good final.

  • Comment number 10.

    why was barca's criticism unjustified? chelsea deserved it. they didn't go there to play football but just defend and try and not lose. that's why they're a boring team and don't deserve to win anything because they don't play the game as it should be played imo.

  • Comment number 11.

    Think it'll be a Barcelona v Man Utd final this year and even if United manage to win it again, we have to admit than Barca are the best team in Europe by some distance. The only way Chelsea can cause an upset is if Barca put on a shoddy defensive display, seeing that both Puyol & Marquez are out. Don't think Arsenal can do United. We have considerable pedigree now in big games like these and we won't throw it away for sure.

  • Comment number 12.

    Playing football is more than just attacking. There is a unique skill in the art of playing a defending game, which some naive fans call anti-football; and the skill is in not conceding a goal. Learn to appreciate this type of play as you will see a lot more of it in the premiership next season. You might as well enjoy it.

  • Comment number 13.

    atillakurt wrote:
    why was barca's criticism unjustified? chelsea deserved it. they didn't go there to play football but just defend and try and not lose. that's why they're a boring team and don't deserve to win anything because they don't play the game as it should be played imo.
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------

    So how do you explain Chelsea's 7-5 aggregate win over Liverpool? Boring and negative?

    Last year's CL final between Chelsea and Man U was an excellent game of football.

    Chelsea's tacics were appropriate for a two legged tie, if it had been a one off game the tactics would have been different, as indeed they will be on Wednesday.

    Ask Bayern or Lyon about it.

  • Comment number 14.

    RE: 11 poltergeist23

    Surely if Manchester United do become the first ever team to retain the Champions League title AND beat Barcelona for the second season in a row they could lay claim to being the best team in Europe??

    Barcelona are great coming forward but suspect at the back and whilst they have over 100 domestic goals this season they have failed to beat a Premiership side in three attempts since their win over Arsenal in 2006.

    Domestic supremecy doesnt make you the best team in Europe....European supremecy does!!

  • Comment number 15.

    I really think Rooney shouldn't start.
    He is exceptional but Tevez and Berbatov can play well together, especially away from home with Berba holding it up for Tevez to run on.
    Can't risk wayne missing the final and in an encounter like this he is likely to get booked.
    Put him on the bench and if it does get harder than anticipated then bring him on to tear arsenal apart.

  • Comment number 16.

    Good blog, Phil

    I must admit to never liking Wenger (not that I know him personally), but have to admire his belief in attacking football & flair. His biggest mistake, however, has been the lack of steel in his midfield since Vieira left the club - he still hasn't filled that gap. Kolo's brother, Yaya, would do nicely in that department. A top-class striker and centre-back would also help the team.

    I still think United will win the league, but am not so confident about the European Cup. Whether Arsenal will be the ones to defeat us, I'm not so sure. Either way, I just don't have a good feeling about the tournament this season. If we don't win it, then it'd be cool to see Barca take the title - if only to reward Messi for his outrageous skill.

    This summer, it's not only the Gooners that need to delve into the transfer market: Liverpool must build on their league challenge; Chelsea need some exciting young blood to supplement their experienced players; United need to replace Ronaldo & Tevez, who will be leaving, methinks; Tottenham will surely buy a couple of good players; Everton & Villa must expand their squads to maintain their progress; West Ham need a sprinkling more experience, etc etc etc.

    I just hope young Anderson has seen the back of his growing pains and manages to stay fit from now on. He's got the potential to be absolutely superb and make a United midfield berth his own for the next decade or more.

    :)

  • Comment number 17.

    Even though top teams might on occasion need to defend; case in point Manchester United in the Semi finals of the Champion's league last season, Negative football must always be discouraged

  • Comment number 18.

    Oh and why are you bashing Barcelona? I don't understand what was so gallant about Chelsea's display. With all their big players, they couldn't put together a single attacking move. The press here in Spain (even the pro-Madrid Marca) lambasted Chelsea and rightly labelled them an embarassment. In the eyes of most people outside England, Chelsea embarrased English football and your showering praise of valiant Chelsea is a bit over the top.

  • Comment number 19.

    Comment 11: Think it'll be a Barcelona v Man Utd final this year and even if United manage to win it again, we have to admit than Barca are the best team in Europe by some distance

    Why?? They clearly won't be as they will have failed to become European Champions plus it will have been the second year in a row they will have fallen to English opposition. Barca are glamorous no doubt and play some great football but there is a little too much fawning in their direction in my opinion. They are no great shakes at the back when playing against decent opposition and have a tendency to get extremely moany and sulky when their brand of god like football doesn't work.

    I am no Chelsea fan but thought the Barca players were pathetic afterward. If you are really so great and the best in Europe by 'some distance' you should be able to take on any style of play or tactics and get around it especially on home ground. It makes me laugh the way they acted as if Chelsea had cheated by deciding to defend vigorously against them for the 90 mins something which is obviously clearly outside the rules of the game because it didn't leave them enough room to do their usual routine of pulling tactically naive teams apart. Boo hoo!

    If they overcome Chelsea and Man U or Arsenal and win their league - fair enough they will deserve the tag of best team in Europe - until then don't believe the hype and lets see if they really are THAT good and produce the goods on the big stage which they limply failed to do last year not managing to put even ONE goal past Man U over two matches.

  • Comment number 20.

    Arsenal v Manchester United (0-1)

    Well it was a pretty unanimous conclusion that Arsenal can count themselves lucky to have as good a chance as they do to still make the final after being outclassed by United at Old Trafford in the first leg.

    Arsenal are very strong at home both domestically and in Europe, and have already beaten United at the Emirates this season.

    With Ferdinand set to make the game, the chances of Arsenal netting 3 goals against probably the best defensive unit in Europe are minimal so for me they must get a clean sheet, something they haven't done against United at home since they played their home games at Highbury.

    It'll be interesting to see how cautious United are and how attacking Wenger sets up his team.

    United will probably play the same side that lined up in the first leg but the key will be whether United again try to get in Arsenals faces or drop off and leave no gaps, Arsene will probably be hoping for the latter which would allow pressure to build and reduce United's chances of netting the away goal.

    The first goal is very important and could settle Arsenal down if the get it, but the problem for Arsenal is United's stubborness during this unbeaten CL run of 24 games in never reliquishing an advantage in second legs so i'm backing United to win on the night by a goal and by two on aggregate after another determind defensive display.

    Sadly i don't think Wenger will ever win the Champions League

  • Comment number 21.

    The Rites of Passage to Rome look extremely challenging for all the four semi-finalists. Since the stakes are so high one can never rule out the need for the dreaded penalty shoot out ritual. Spot kick takers and goal keepers may have decisive roles to play as part of the Rites de Passage to Rome.




    Dr. Cajetan Coelho

  • Comment number 22.

    OTT
    Chelsea will be too strong for Barcelona.

  • Comment number 23.

    I think last weeks game give's the wrong impression on the form of Arsenal. In the last 2-3 months Arsenal have scored more and conceded less than MUtd.

    Anyone who thinks thar Arsenal is a 1 or 2 man team is deluded

    MU are obviously favourites but there is a lot of football left to be played

  • Comment number 24.

    Arsenal to win, but 2-1 so United go through. I just think they are the better team this season, much as it pains me to say so. Also, the tie should be over and done with already after the way they played at OT. Hope I'm wrong though. And really hope that Barca tonk Chelski, preferably with a Thierry Henry hat trick.

  • Comment number 25.

    poltergeist23 wrote:
    Oh and why are you bashing Barcelona?
    ----------------------------------------------------------------------

    Because over the years they have always been the biggest whingers and moaners when things don't go their way. They just assume they have the right to run riot over teams because they have skilful players, and that for some reason football should be a non-contact sport when you play agst Barcelona.

  • Comment number 26.

    "Chelsea hold the slightest of advantages". Hey Phil, can you enlight us here on how you came to this conclusion?

    I'm a chelsea fan but praising Chelsea's defensive display as "just short of perfection" is pathetic. Say that you, as an englishman, are happy that an english club managed to get a draw against such a superb team, but don't pretend that branch of football is something to be proud of.

  • Comment number 27.

    @ #18

    I'm just saying that this Barcelona team is something special. Don't get me wrong, I would love to see United retain the crown, but the enterprising football the likes of Arsenal and United play simply pales to insignificance compared to this Barcelona team. And while I'm intrigued to see how Chelsea go about trying to topple Barca, I don't think they can do it.

  • Comment number 28.

    To poltergeist23...if you follow the link about this being a familiar line of complaint from Barcelona, you will see a story about Liverpool (and manager Gerard Houllier in particular) being heavily criticised after a goalless draw in a Uefa Cup semi-final first leg in the Nou Camp in 2001.

    It was a strategy that worked perfectly, especially as Liverpool won the return leg 1-0 on their way to winning the Uefa Cup against Alaves in the final, but I was at the post-match press conference when Houllier was whistled and jeered by members of the Spanish media. It was a very poor response to a decent man.

    And of course Lionel Messi referred to Rangers' style as anti-football after a goalless draw at Ibrox in October 2007.

    Presumably Barcelona had no concerns about Real Madrid's approach at The Bernabeu on Saturday when they won 6-2.

    Barcelona could have no serious complaints about the way Chelsea played, and their post-match carping was unnecessary. It certainly adds another layer of intrigue to the second leg.

  • Comment number 29.

    I'm a Arsenal fan, and I've always loved Wenger and I'd like to see him coach the team for the rest of his career. It's the way he lets young, talented players have a go and the way he makes for attacking football and counter-attacks of flair, but - in the second leg in CL against Manchester United I really don't see them coming through. I have belief in the squad, and several of the youngsters have grown a lot since Christmas (Song, Diaby, Denilson), but its the fact that if United scores one (and I say them doing it with Berbatov, Ronaldo, Rooney and Tevez), Arsenal needs to put three - and that's not very likely to happen against Vidic, Ferdinand, Evra and um...O'Shea. What I think Arsenal will need to do, is to keep the ball confidently in the team and sharpen after Old Trafford's a bit effortless performance, especially by Walcott, Fabregas, Nasri and Adebayor.

    When it comes to the other semi-final, I really have to say that I find Barcelona to be a overrated team. Yes, they play fabulous football at home in La Liga, but they mostly play against rubbish defenders. They beat Real Madrid 6-2 away this weekend, and that says it all. Now Real Madrid is in current panic and wants to do the shop-shop song by Cher, it's awful but it's a different kind of story. Back to Barca - I love watching Henry (Arsenal fan remember?), Eto'o and Messi play click-clack in the attacking third, but when facing the likes of Terry, Cole, Alex, Essien, Mikel and Ivanovic, they became po faced at home in Barcelona, and in London I'm afraid they'll b crushed to the wall. The Premier League is so much more physical, energetic, innovative and determined than in any other league, and when Barcelona faces Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, I think the Blues will pull up their sleeves and show muscle, ripping the Spaniards apart in the midfield and defense.

  • Comment number 30.

    Man Utd fan here.
    All of the four teams deserve to be where they are right now i.e semifinals.Saying that Barca deserves to go through to the final more than the others (which quite a lot of people have been saying) isn't really justified.Braca are amazing going forward and are the team which I follow the most(after Man Utd),but they are poor defensively.Football is about scoring goals,but its also about being tight at the back,being organized and compact in the midfield,and having strategy and tactics to nullify the opponents' strengths,which Chelsea perfectly executed last week (And Man Utd in last year's semis).
    To say that teams who do not let Barca score are dull and boring is not justified,and getting a draw at Camp Nou is as good as gold,provided you do show attacking intent at your home match.
    As for this round of matches,I think United have that extra edge goinf forward (at back to their best at the back as well,5 clean sheets in last 6 matches) and Arsenal do have to go for a goal or two,leaving gaps behind in their weakened defence.The same goes for Barca and their defence too.

  • Comment number 31.

    Phil,

    Chelsea's approach was sensible, any team that goes toe-to-toe with Barca in the Nou Camp will be humiliated and Hiddink simply chose a chance of making the final over footballing principles.

    What Barca players did have the right to complain about was some of the officiating, how Ballack avoided a second yellow i don't know and several incorrect off-side decisions also had me wondering what was going on.

    For me if Chelsea score first they can shut up shop and see out the tie, but if Barca get the first goal they'll have to turn a deficit into a victory on the night which is a tough ask.

    First goal could win the tie.

  • Comment number 32.

    u talk about arsenal as if is not a good club but remeba this seaon in november arsena defeated man united and till they can do it again i love arsenal and i know that we are going to final this doe we have one goal down but till we can fill the gap. am sick and tired of people saying arsenal can't scorce three to four goal at emirate, pls u need to go see what this youngstar are made of. and 4 barca & chelsea, barca made the mistake of not scoreing at home and that is a big blow for them on wed because will also be in rome this season.

  • Comment number 33.

    Phil, you rightly point out that Real had to go for it at home against Barca and ended up conceeding 6, but fail then to go on an to the obvious conclusion, that unless Hiddink is planing on playing for penalties (and I wouldn't put it past him) then they will have to go for it against Barca, the question is, will Barca repeat their weekend result? And will their attack again prove deadly on the break? A bit more analysis and less meaningless soundbites would have been welcome!

  • Comment number 34.

    kuba_manunited121...clearly there are risks for Wayne Rooney as he stands just one yellow card away from what would be a heartbreaking suspension if United did reach the final, but in my opinion there is no way Ferguson could contemplate leaving him out.

    Rooney is simply playing too well and is too influential to start on the sidelines - he could be United's match-winner and Ferguson will trust him to avoid trouble on such a huge occasion.

    Dimitar Berbatov and Carlos Tevez have many qualities, but Rooney adds a different dimension to United's side.

  • Comment number 35.

    phenomstruck wrote:
    To say that teams who do not let Barca score are dull and boring is not justified,and getting a draw at Camp Nou is as good as gold,provided you do show attacking intent at your home match.
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Spot on. So called neutral (anti Chelsea) fans have been far too quick to criticise Chelsea after the 1st leg. I expect Chelsea to show more attacking intent in the 2nd leg, if they don't, then perhaps then the criticism will have some merit.

  • Comment number 36.

    Always United wrote:


    how Ballack avoided a second yellow i don't know
    -------------------------------------------------------------------------
    do you know how Puyol avoided a second yellow card then?

    do you know how Alves did not get booked?

  • Comment number 37.

    I think SAF should leave Rooney on the bench for the tie against Arsenal and go with Tevez as the lone striker just as he did in the first leg except Park should replace Rooney on the left. His energy and tracking back would help Evra in containing Walcott just as Rooney did. Therefore my team would be
    ==========VDS===========
    Oshea==Rio===Vidic==Evra
    ===Carrick===Fletcher===
    =======Anderson=========
    Ronaldo=============Park
    ========Tevez=========

  • Comment number 38.

    Nice blog, but I do vividly remember the 2005 cup final in which Man United battered Arsenal but failed to score. I don't think the gunners managed a single shot on goal throughout the game, and held on for pens. -------------------------------------------------------\

    This the problem with "Vivid memoroies" of Man United fans. Very Selctive. Yes Man U were ythe beter and more aggrassive team particulary in extra time.

    But Arsenal actualy had mor shots on the goals in first half against Man u and created more chances. Needles to say Mnau Fans memories tend to block out such facts.

    Arseal were without Henry, and Cambell, THEY WENT OUT TO DEFEND AND TRY TO SNEAK A WIN.
    You know tha tactic that you lot used against Barca when you went to Barcelona last year? That year Gunners were injury prone old and lost their title to Chelsea, Weneger knew agianst young energatoc MAn U team we couldn't possibaly run.

    By the way (yes this is true in that UTTER DOMINATION oF MANU OVER Arsenal, it was Arsenal with more possesion during the regulation).


    In first half time of possesion to Arsenal, but Man U just shaded

    So here is to jog your selcetive memory:

    First 5 minutes Man U dominated possesion with Cr creating the first chance
    Next 10/12 minutes Arsean were on top with Reys beating cArrol and with MAn U keeper competely beaten but young Fabergass fails to control Reys pass. THIS WAS THE BEST CHANCE OF FIRTS HALF AND IT WAS BY ARSENAL.

    Next 10/12 minutes both team play rough, Reys with a dangerous curling shot, Rooney with dangerous run. Slight advantage to Arsenal.

    Last 15 minutes oif firt half United Crank up the pressure

    End of first half, UNited better team but not by much, Best Chance of the mathc was ctreated by Arsenal (FAbergass muffed it up).



    Second half. First 20 minutes. United are rampant, Although no clear chances, Ronaldo has one shot that went just wide and had Jens Lemmaaon beaten.

    But the games clearts chane is created by Arsenal: At 25th minute
    Robert Pires is left alone at the back post but he blasts his sidefooted-volley over the bar.

    Next 10 minutes, Fairly even even as Ljungberg for Arsenal, Roony, and Ronaldo for MAnu create some danger but no real danger.

    The real danger comes when Lemmon comes out to puncxh a the Football on a corner and missed and Rouy Keans has a chance to punish, but his effort is blocked.

    LAST 15 MINUTES of the Ruglation: Arsenals older legs are tired and young energatic Rooney and Ronaldo torment Arsenal.

    United carry their dominance from last 15 minutes into extra time. But
    There sting is taken out of them. Arseanla re failry comfortable defending in the extra time.

    This is it folks. MAn U fans have somehow turned this dominant performance against an old side that was missing their best player into some epic.
    It was not!



  • Comment number 39.

    I think Chelsea will show some attacking instinct,they now know that with the right tactics they can keep the ultra talented Barca forward line relatively quiet,and with the home crowd to push them on,and a little bit more ball possesion from their midfield,I can totally see Chelsea forwards doing the job.
    As for Arsenal,yes they have very talented and bright youngstersmUnited have a few of their own,who do have an added experience of being part of big games,in England and in Europe,and they have the experience to go on and win in these types of sitiuations.

  • Comment number 40.

    Chelsea can't afford just to hang on for a 1-0 - akin to Houllier's team, way back in 2001. The circumstances are completely different.

    Yes the aggregate score is the same, but Liverpool's defence was resolute and sound in both legs. They had Europe's finest in Henchoz and Hyypia if I can remember. I can't see Chelsea doing the same because one way or another, something's gotta give. John Terry and Alex aren't sound together. They barely held on for a victory at Stamford Bridge against Liverpool last month and who would bet against Barcelona not scoring on Wednesday.

    I believe Hiddink has to go for it - even if this means changing the formation or sacrificing a defender.

  • Comment number 41.

    "Chelsea hold the slightest of advantages". Hey Phil, can you enlight us here on how you came to this conclusion?

    ballontheground

    26. While I agree that the quality of Phils journalistic style leave a lot to be desired, and that he seems to have major issues omitting his biased and subjective opinions from his articles, I must agree with him on this point.

    I saw a very dogged Chelsea defense last Tuesday, and one that did very well at the task they were given. Football is both attack AND defense and we certainly saw a game where defense won the advantage. Now Barcelona travel to Stamford Bridge away from their home fans, on a much smaller pitch against an experienced and determined Chelsea. I think Chelsea will use their strength and physical superiority to good effect here and they will be be as strong as they can going forward; Whether that means they will just launch balls forward from the back or they find some other way to attack, they will do so with grit. Barcelona need to disposses Chelsea early in attack as I feel it will take lots and lots of possesion on their part to get an away goal. Chelsea 0 - 0 Barcelona; Chelsea win on penalties.

    As for Arsenal, without their top players, especially their defensive ones, I don't see them being a match for United who will attempt the same barrage from start to finish that they did at Old Trafford. As an Arsenal fan, it pains me to say this, but I cannot see Arsenal coming out of this one on top. Arsenal 2 - 1 Manchester United

  • Comment number 42.

    Phil, you're being a tad over-emotional with your writing in say that Wenger's cv is scarred by the absence of a of a European trophy. It's clearly missing the said achievement, and I'm sure hes going all out to rectify it, but using such language makes it sound like the man has been a failure at his job.

    Anyway, its gonna be another Man United-Chelsea final.

  • Comment number 43.

    norapeti

    Puyol should have received a second yellow but at least his challenge wasn't proffesional which leaves the seriousness of the foul to the referee's interpretation.

    Ballack had to go as Iniesta was behind the defence!

    Alves's antics were nothing short o disgraceful.

  • Comment number 44.

    37. At 3:31pm on 04 May 2009, Reddevilyardie (they say I'm a glory hunter) wrote:

    I think SAF should leave Rooney on the bench for the tie against Arsenal and go with Tevez as the lone striker just as he did in the first leg except Park should replace Rooney on the left. His energy and tracking back would help Evra in containing Walcott just as Rooney did. Therefore my team would be
    ==========VDS===========
    Oshea==Rio===Vidic==Evra
    ===
    Carrick===Fletcher===
    =======Anderson=========
    Ronaldo=============Park
    ========Tevez=========

    ------------------------------
    I think if you put Tevez in a lone role up front he'd get rather isolated and track back. If you're going to put anyone in the lone role, it would be Berbatov.

  • Comment number 45.

    Maybe the moaning was unnecessary Phil, but it still doesn't justify your whole-hearted praise of Chelsea. While they rightly played a defensive game, they couldn't establish any sort of authority when they had the ball. This is Chelsea we're talking about. It was wave after wave of Barcelona attacks and last year it was no different. I was embarassed when United got swamped at Camp Nou to a relatively inferior Barca side and it just shows you the gulf in class between Barcelona and the rest of Europe.

  • Comment number 46.

    I agree that Chelsea got a very good result at Camp Nou and to that extent should be praised for their efforts. However there are a couple of things that people don't seem to have picked upon.

    1) With so much money available it is a shame that Chelsea don't feel capable of doing more than parking the proverbial bus. I know people will argue that that is what they had to do but I would expect more of them to be honest.

    2) Chelsea, having done nothing but defended for 90 minutes, only just about managed to keep a clean sheet and, if Barcelona had had their shooting boots on as they did at the weekend, then I think they should have won. People continuously go on about Drogba's chance saying that Chelsea could have won if he had scored. However where is the mention of Eto'o's one-on-one chance and Bojan heading over with the goal at his mercy amongst others?

    Now people assume that Chelsea will keep Barcelona at bay and score themselves. Well they will have to come out of their own half which in turn will make it easier for Barcelona to score themselves than at Camp Nou. People are quick to gove Chelsea the advantage when I saw nothing last week which suggests to me that Chelsea have any real advantage. They will concede - they only managed not to with all hands on deck defending but they can't do that on Wednesday.

    True, Barcelona do not have the best recent record against the Premier League teams, but you can never read too much into that. Man Utd could even score against Villarreal in two group games and Liverpool drew twice with Atletico Madrid. They aren't even in the top four in Spain at the moment. Past history counts for nothing now and I don't believe the English press and fans are giving Barcelona the respect they deserve.

  • Comment number 47.

    Both semis should be tight games and great for the neutral, although absolutely nerve wrenching for any of the teams supporters. My view on the Chelsea v Barca game is that the first team to score will win. If Chelsea score first I see the Barca heads going down. If Barca score first I see them defending well, playing for time (they are experts at this) and when Chelsea start to throw everything at them I see Barca scoring again on the break.

    As for Man Utd v Arsenal, the scorer of the first goal will be equally important. Impossible to predict, although I can see a situation where Utd dominate, but there are no goals in the first half. In the second half Arsenal score late on and we may get extra time. Then it is anybody's guess what happens then.

    For maximum entertainment I am hoping for an early goal in both games. I wont sit on the fence, I agree with a lot of people on this blog and I predict a Barca v Man Utd final.

  • Comment number 48.

    It's strange how psychology can play a part in everything from now until the season's end ! for instance if Arsenal knock out Man Utd tomorrow how will that effect Utd's League challenge ?? I have a funny feeling there are still twists to the Champions' League and the Premier League. Although Liverpool or Chelsea seem to be out of the League running, you never know ?

  • Comment number 49.

    Andersonleftboot - I think Tevez played in a lone striker role in the first leg. The team I suggested is the same as used a week ago, save rooney of course. Tevez would get support from both Ronaldo and Park and with Anerson in the hole Tevez won't have to track that far back. He'll be left to focus on rushing the defenders into making decisions and not allowing them to pass out from the back comfortably. I can see the benefits of having Berbatov in there as well thugh. he could hold the ball up and allow Ronaldo and Park to get down the flank while allowing both defensive mids and Ando to push up in support. I'm glad SAF has that decision to make and not me.

  • Comment number 50.

    RE: post 45 poltergeist23 wrote:

    "I was embarassed when United got swamped at Camp Nou to a relatively inferior Barca side and it just shows you the gulf in class between Barcelona and the rest of Europe."

    Although they were not classy enough to score at Old Trafford and were not classy enough to score at the Nou Camp, thus United went through and won!

    Barcelona are not good enough defensively to cope with the Premiership sides away from home and not good enough attacking wise to score against them consistantly at home as their last two homes ties against Premiership opposition have proved, whilst they are brilliant to watch at times the lower standard of La Liga makes them look better than they are......in the Premiership we have 4 sides that have made the final of the Champions League in the last five years....La Liga has just one, Barcelona, the overall strength of the Premier League and the fact that the premier league sides consistantly make the semi-finals leads me to beleive that the Manchester United, as the best of the Premierships teams can certainly lay claim to being the best in Europe above Barcelona and I think recent results between the two clubs proves my point; Manchester United have matured in Europe and are capable of good defensive displays away to Europes Elite whilst still managing to overcome them at OT.....all on top of a 24 match unbeaten European run!!

    Viva United!!

  • Comment number 51.

    jevans1987 wrote:
    However there are a couple of things that people don't seem to have picked upon.

    1) With so much money available it is a shame that Chelsea don't feel capable of doing more than parking the proverbial bus. I know people will argue that that is what they had to do but I would expect more of them to be honest.
    ------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Well is the last two seasons the money hasn't been avilable. This current Chelsea team is not as strong as the one that knocked out Barcelona in 2005. To make things worse, the current Barcelona team is much stronger than in 2005.

    Chelsea had defensive tactics, but I don't think even they anticpated being outplayed in midfield as much as they were by Barcelona and in the end were just pushed further and further back.

    With the current balance (or lack of) in the Chelsea squad, they did the right thing.

    I think your point in regards to money at Chelsea is that it would appear that some of it has been spent badly and that more should have been spent on younger players.

  • Comment number 52.

    Re post 47: Remember Barca went one down on Sat to Real and still had the character and bottle to come back and take them apart. Clearly this Chelsea team will be a much stronger and challenging test but Barca have something about them this year which they´ve lacked in the last few seasons. The heads don´t seem to go down so easily under Guardiola. However, having said all that, I firmly believe the absence of Puyol and Marquez will be crucial. Here´s hoping Drogba has a mare!

  • Comment number 53.

    I can't see it this time around, but without doubt Arsenal will be strong challengers next season.

  • Comment number 54.

    the clearest observation for leg 2 arsenal v manu is that it's united's to lose. But the devils are NO WAY in an unassailable position; united's greatest threat can be to themselves, from the neck up. thusly, arsenal's best defense is to attack, cram it down their throats, and start the cascade of frustration that this season has brought down the united defense (does anyone need reminding that vidic was sent off in BOTH liverpool league matches??) arsenal should assault, tease and then finally shove man u over the brink of self-destruction, turn ferdinand against vidic, make rooney curse and ronaldo cry.

    I think that's the greatest chink in united's facade...so I say the bigger they are, the harder they'll fall, and when the dust settles, the road to rome will belong to the gunners!

  • Comment number 55.

    norapeti wrote:

    jevans1987 wrote:
    However there are a couple of things that people don't seem to have picked upon.

    1) With so much money available it is a shame that Chelsea don't feel capable of doing more than parking the proverbial bus. I know people will argue that that is what they had to do but I would expect more of them to be honest.
    ------------------------------------------------------
    ------------------

    Well is the last two seasons the money hasn't been avilable. This current Chelsea team is not as strong as the one that knocked out Barcelona in 2005. To make things worse, the current Barcelona team is much stronger than in 2005.

    Chelsea had defensive tactics, but I don't think even they anticpated being outplayed in midfield as much as they were by Barcelona and in the end were just pushed further and further back.

    With the current balance (or lack of) in the Chelsea squad, they did the right thing.

    I think your point in regards to money at Chelsea is that it would appear that some of it has been spent badly and that more should have been spent on younger players.

    ------------------------------------------------------------------

    something along those lines. perhaps they haven't had as much money available but that should not be too much of an excuse. barcelona's team at the weekend had 6 out of 11 players who were trained at their academy (messi, puyol, xavi, iniesta, pique and valdes) with 2 of the 3 subs also trained there. this is also trained since they were barely aged in double figures not getting them at 17 and then doing the finishing touches.

    the point remains though that chelsea, for all the money they have at least had, should be expected to not have to resort to 100% defence even away from home. surely if they were one of the best in europe they shouldn't have to do that.

    i see what you are saying though...

  • Comment number 56.

    Right so to all the yay we all love Barcelona because they score lots of goals they must be the best there is one slight problem with that argument. Lets look at the number of goals scored in La Liga this season (996) and even the bottom club (numancia) have bulged the back of the net 37 times vs the premier league (866) therefore more goals are scored on average per game in La Liga hence scoring more goals in La Liga isnt such a big deal. So much so the other 19 teams in La Liga have scored more goals than all 20 in the prem so to judge solely based on the number of goals scored by a team as how good they are is naive and ignorant given champions league results suggest that Barca, and the other Spanish clubs tend to struggle scoring against English opposition who can actually defend unlike their Spanish Rivals

    incidentally on the number of goals scored logic Real Madrid (79) are better than any team in the premier league, which clearly isnt the case when they got hammered by Barca at the weekend, or is that the second best europe has to offer?

  • Comment number 57.

    Reddevilyardie

    I think we'll play the same team as last week. With Tevez in the team, we can play higher up the pitch. I don't know how you thought Berbatov would hold the ball up - he never does. Also, I think Rooney will start this as the tie isn't over just yet.

  • Comment number 58.

    I believe that a club that has invested as much as Chelsea has in the last 5 years should really be able to produce much more than they did in Barcelona. Frankly, Chelsea were very fortunate to escape with a goalless draw on the basis of the performance shown and I sincerely hope that they do not put on a similar display at home.

    Having said this, Barcelona only have themselves to blame. They had opportunities to score, but failed to capitalise on them. Based on their scoring record this season I very much doubt they will make the same mistake in the return leg.

    What I do find interesting is how when Italy and Greece have achieved success with strong defensive displays, they have been attacked for having a "negative" approach, yet when Chelsea and Liverpool have done this, they are "pragmatists". Double standard?

  • Comment number 59.

    Outraged that Chelsea's anti-football is being remotely defended as 'shrewd' or 'intelligent', 'dogged' or 'skillful', with critics dismissed as whingers and naive.

    Yes, as one poster commented, football is offense and defense. The problem is, Chelsea eliminated their offense, packed their box with ten or eleven players, and made it impossible for any football to be played, much less offensive football. When I guard a player more skillful than I, in any sport, I often foul him and put a body on him to make it impossible for him to be effective. This may be deemed 'smart' play, but of course I know that it's really cheap and tawdry play. (Yes, sports, and footy, have a physical element, but that line is easily crossed with a poor referee, or with an approach that seeks to niggle, foul, clip, kick, shove, hold shirts, all of which is disgusting, anti-football.) And if the referee doesn't understand the sport, he'll let me get away with this unseemly approach. It kills the sport. It kills the game.

    It may indeed be the approach most likely to work for Chelsea, but that doesn't make it immune from criticism: if you are outgunned, kill off the game, put everyone in defense, save Drogba (and even he spent much time in defense), and make it impossible for the game to flow, hoping to nick a cheap counter. It's hideous, cowardly, profoundly negative . . . .

    And as for its being 'skillful', well, the skill in football is to actually play the sport, to take on your opponent, and to try to score whilst preventing your opponent from doing so. It is profoundly easier, and ultimately disgusting, to forego playing the game in favor of packing ten or eleven players in and around the box. That's not heroic defending. That's anti-football, and the result is a Barcelona team constantly probing, trying to find a way around a wall of eleven defenders stuck in their own box clogging up the field like a bunch of overmatched cowards. Disgusting.

  • Comment number 60.

    if arsen is so confident, did he actually ORDER his players to LOSE the first game

    I can just imagine the speech prior to leaving the changing rooms "right, in the first half an hour I want you to make utd look superior to us in every way. in the following hour I want you to make sure utd have all the chances and around 2/3's of the possession. under no circumstances should anyone threaten the utd goal"

    ?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

  • Comment number 61.

    nice blog
    maybe wenger is seeing what we cannot see even though the smart money is on united to progress. he sounds really positive and i have never seen him positive like this in a long time.maybe wenger like me believe in miracles. one nil away from home is not a bad result and i can see arsenal overhauling the deficit. i can see arsenal giving it their best from the blast of the whistle. as an arsenal fan, am quite optimistic because we want it more than united. we have never won it and most of these arsenal kids will want to make history. well people keep saying united's defense is solid and that but you dont win football on past glory. am sure we can score more than four goals 2morow.. who says its impossible? liverpool did. well am a lil bit of a pyschic and my supernatural powers are saying arsenal to win, something keeps telling me it will be decided on penalties and arsenal to go through.lol.

  • Comment number 62.

    Barcelona and Man U. such an exciting match. I'll take the day off (in Idaho, USA) and watch the game by myself, since not many people care about football (soccer) in USA.

  • Comment number 63.

    Well balanced article I thought. Its a Chelsea v Utd final if everything goes to plan... which it always does in football. For stats fans [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

  • Comment number 64.

    I don't think Chelsea's tactics will differ from the first leg. They will try to frustrate Barca and hit them on the break, wait for a set piece or defensive error- let's face it, this nearly won them the first leg. I don't think anyone connected with Chelsea will mind the criticism that would surely follow. The problem for the catalans is that they are not regularily tested by very strong teams in a weakened league, in which they are comfortably the best team. Perhaps they should adjust their tactics and force Chelsea to re-think their's?

    The other tie is far from settled but United have become very good at these away ties in Europe. Their strength is a flexibility where tactics are concerned and can switch from defensive mode to attack ver quickly- with flexible formations containing forward players who are prepared to work hard- even Berbatov has started to track back! The bottom line is United will score and, therefore, edge out Arsenal. Rooney will definitely play- his temper has been largely under control recently. He is the outstanding United player this season and the fans love him. He'll play on the left of a five man midfield, with Tevez the out and out striker,

  • Comment number 65.

    With regards to comments to resting Rooney so that he avoids a booking and missing the final - the big point here is, is that Man Utd are not in the final until the final whistle. Fergie would look a little silly if he rested his best player, only to not make the final. I would rather ensure we get to the final and should we miss our best player in that game so be it, but getting there is the first priority.

    Resting someone for a final you haven't actually got to reeks of arrogance, and as Phil posted, it will not be something Fergie will even entertain for a second.

  • Comment number 66.

    I am getting seriously fed up with this Chelsea-bashing and I don't even like them!

    If they play the same way at Stamford Bridge then the criticism will probably be more justified, but who on Earth goes away in Europe these days and goes all guns blazing with the scores at 0-0?

    Going all out attack against Barca, in Barca is plain stupid. I would criticise Chelsea if they were putting in bad challenges and defending dirtily but this was simply not the case. You are allowed to defend in football and I'm sick of those connected with Barcelona simply feeling that they should be allowed to walk games as they do with shoddy La Liga defences.

    Don't get me wrong, I admire the Catalan sides football- at times its staggering and a joy to watch, but football would be boring if everyone had the same tactics and philosophies. I seem to remember Barca whining a lot in the Mourinho days only for Chelsea to blitz them with something like 3 goals in half an hour!

    I think the negativity towards Chelsea is coming from those disappointed that they weren't torn apart. Good on them for being the only side to shut Barca out at home.

    Lets get another thing straight, this Chelsea side aren't boring any more- they wouldn't"park the bus" against any other side in Europe except Barcelona- its Barcelona's weakness- you know that their defence simply isn't good enough to go 2 legs without conceding against such opposition.

    In terms of a prediction, i say an entertaining 2-2 seeing Barca through on away goals.

    As for United, i really hope we can score an early goal an hopefully that should be enough, but United never do it the easy way so i can see a 2-1 Arsenal, with us also progressing on away goals. That said, United are due a bit of luck at the Emirates and I wouldnt be suprised to see us chalk up a magnificent win. Wengers comments are intruiging but I believe that the Arsenal squad is lacking belief about this tie and he is doing his utmost to restore that belief.

  • Comment number 67.

    Whilst I think it would be great to see Arsenal comeback and beat Man Utd, I don't think Arsenal can stop Barca or Chelsea, so Man Utd need to go through.

  • Comment number 68.

    A lot of Man Utd fans on here who are convinced that last weeks performance by Arsenal was so poor that it is an impossibility that Arsenal can improve sufficiently to beat them on Tuesday. I should remind them that Arsenal did just that earlier this season. A late goal (82 minutes I think) was Uniteds only response to Arsenal that day.
    United have managed only a draw at Chelsea this year, against top four opposition on the road. Ferguson is no genius when it comes to euro ties, and if, as he think he will, he throws all guns out in the first 15minutes to try and get the away goal, Arsenal can counter.
    If Arsenal score first then I think United will wobble....do they turn the heat up further to get the tie killing away goal, and risk more from Arsenal, or do they play the long game and try to steal one by letting Arsenal press??
    Its intriguing, and anyone who writes Arsenal off, is doing it out of partisanship not football knowledge.
    Its been pointed out that Rooney is on a yellow. Its a very good bet that he gets one on Tuesday, and is out. I can see Gazza tears!

  • Comment number 69.

    RE: henryzola

    I would just like to say that I am confused by your description of anti-football. Do you mean a style of football where a team gets all their players behind the ball without any attacking intention or are you referring to a consistent and calculated effort to foul the opposition in order to stop them?

    I agree with your point that Chelsea's performance was not as good as all the superlatives being attributed to them in Phil's article and in the media in general. I feel they set themselves up to be defensively solid, but I don't believe their intention was to sit so deep or did they think they would be dominated so comprehensively as one poster has already pointed out.

    But considering that, they battled and fought for every ball, defended as a team, rode their luck on occasion and achieved a deserved result. This is not anti-football. This is called spirit and determination and there is plenty of room for these attributes in football. Okay, there were some questionable referring decisions and some calculated fouls too. But do you think that any Barca player would hesitate to go down easily in the box if he thought it would benefit his team.

    They manner of Chelsea's performance was not 'disgusting', 'hideous' or 'cowardly', your choice of words are both inaccurate and exaggerated. All of the whinging coming from Barcelona players strikes me as sour grapes and discredits them in my opinion. Their snobbish perception towards how the game 'should' be played is deluded and disrespectful. Maybe they are designed to provoke Chelsea into a more adventurous approach in the second leg.

    Any thoughts?

  • Comment number 70.

    I understand the point about not resting our best player (Rooney) but this is not just taking him out of the lineup for the sake of it. It is making a calculated decision in putting a team on the pitch that can finish what we already started against Arsenal. We have a greater chance of finishing off Arsenal without Rooney (that's not being over confident as I know we can lose with or without him)but our chances in the Finals, if we get that far, without him are that much less whether it is against Barcelona or Chelsea. The plan I cam up with during our domination of Arsenal was for Wazza to score the 2nd or 3rd and then take of his shirt, thereby missing the second leg but being eligible for the final : ). Regrettably we did not score that many.

    poltergeist23

    Berbatov is indeed very good at keep possesion of the football and waiting for support. Both against Spurs and Arsenal there were times when it seemed as if teh ball was stuck to his feet. Did you see that juglling bit against Arsenal at the edge of the box before working it wide to Rooney and then getting back into the box only for Silvestre to track him and narrowly head over his own bar in intercepting. The man is brilliant and I think some people refuse to recognise this simply because of all the running Tevez done. The little man is definitely a heart warmer but one cannot let that deter them from noticing Berba's positive qualities or from seeing Tevez's negatives ie can be a wayward finisher, tends to lose the ball to often and tends to be pulled out of position by losing the ball and then chasing after it. he is however a valuable player as well.

  • Comment number 71.

    RioRoyRyanRonRoo&Ruud and Thunderfoot...........

    Your two articles combined cover everything that needs to be said about the 1st leg tie Barcelona V Chelsea.

    HenryZola..........I advise you to read both posts from these guys and learn something, because at the moment the only thing disgusting is you ridiculous overreaction to one game of football. Clearly you are jumper on bandwagons! Where were you to comment after the two games between Liverpool and Chelsea in the Cl quater finals?

  • Comment number 72.

    Sixty8_Ninety9_2K8

    The idea of hailing the Premier League as the outright best in the world is just ridiculous. Do you even watch Spanish football? The big four of England have dominated the Champions League and they are exceptional sides no doubt. But outside those four, what have the other clubs accomplished? I remember Boro got destroyed by Sevilla a few years back. Apart from that, when's the last time a mid-table English club did anything of note in Europe? Technically, Spanish football is far, far superior to the Premier League. And the average league game in Spain is far more entertaining too. The Premier League is marketed very well and all this 'best league in the world' talk is just self-flattery.

  • Comment number 73.

    I would agree with post no.72;

    To claim the Premier League is the best in the world is to forget that our UEFA cup performances are absymal,our so called 5th, 6th, 7th best teams are no match for those or similar standing in Spain, Italy or Germany. While Arse, Chels, MU and Livpl can all cut it with anyone, I'm afraid anything below 4th in the Premier League so not up to standard with the rest of Europe, and that is why other leagues have a variety of teams making up the Champions League places each year where as in England its the same 4 year in year out...

  • Comment number 74.

    Please remember that English teams place much less emphasis on Uefa cup success and also that Champions League clubs drop into the competition.

  • Comment number 75.

    lot of Man Utd fans on here who are convinced that last weeks performance by Arsenal was so poor that it is an impossibility that Arsenal can improve sufficiently to beat them on Tuesday. I should remind them that Arsenal did just that earlier this season. A late goal (82 minutes I think) was Uniteds only response to Arsenal that day.
    United have managed only a draw at Chelsea this year, against top four opposition on the road. Ferguson is no genius when it comes to euro ties, and if, as he think he will, he throws all guns out in the first 15minutes to try and get the away goal, Arsenal can counter.
    If Arsenal score first then I think United will wobble....do they turn the heat up further to get the tie killing away goal, and risk more from Arsenal, or do they play the long game and try to steal one by letting Arsenal press??
    Its intriguing, and anyone who writes Arsenal off, is doing it out of partisanship not football knowledge.
    Its been pointed out that Rooney is on a yellow. Its a very good bet that he gets one on Tuesday, and is out. I can see Gazza tears!

    ======================================

    sorry but u are just an idiot. fergie is no genius in european games? so who is the genius. benitez? oh dont be stupid. fact is united have become rediculously good in europe especially away from home for the past 2years or so. your comment is really silly im afraid to say.

  • Comment number 76.

    @Reddevilyardie

    Totally agree that Berbatov has been playing well lately, but he's not a traditional striker who holds the ball up and brings the rest of the team forward. He likes to drop deep just as much as Tevez to get involved in play. Intrigued to see how United set about their task tomorrow night, especially after Wenger's comments.

  • Comment number 77.

    Do you mean a style where a team gets all players behind ball without any attacking intention or a consistent and calculated effort to foul the opposition in order to stop them?
    I refer chiefly to the former, although both are anti-football, and most often the thuggery accompanies the anti-football tactics. There is a prevailing notion, particularly in English football, that whatever you can get away with, and whatever will help you win, is perfectly okay, if not tactically astute, as if it is also immune from criticism. If only one team is attacking, passing beautifully, making runs, and the other is clogging up the field so as to make play essentially impossible, then it may be tactically beneficial for the inferior squad, but horrible for the sport nonetheless. It is an intent to strangle the game. How can that be immune from the most savage criticism? Because many others are now employing this tactic? Because they are outmatched (read, inferior), with no hope of winning in a real match, so they should be applauded for killing off the game?

    I feel they set themselves up to be defensively solid, but I don't believe their intention was to sit so deep or did they think they would be dominated so comprehensively as one poster has already pointed out.
    I am not sure if this is a joke. Drogba was completely unsupported, alone, without any offensive formation to assist him. And Drogba was often in the 18-meter box defending! There were no attacking middies; even they were packed into Chelsea's box, or thereabouts, to kill off the game. There was ZERO intent to play football, and complete intent to kill off the game. Yes, you are allowed to defend in football, that is a truism. But if you do so by putting ten or eleven players behind the ball, in your own half, then what you are doing is worthy of savage criticism.

    But considering that, they battled and fought for every ball, defended as a team, rode their luck on occasion and achieved a deserved result.
    A deserved result? I respectfully find that to be a shocking conclusion. They deserved nothing but scorn for killing football, and refusing to play.

    This is not anti-football. This is called spirit and determination and there is plenty of room for these attributes in football.
    The use of the words 'spirit' and 'determination' is obscene in these circumstances. They were 'determined' not to play football. They were determined to sit in their own half and hope that Barcelona would have a hard time getting through eleven players clogging up a half.

    This is about understanding the inherent limitations in football if one team abuses the rules (i.e. does what is 'permitted') and decides not to play. Eleven men on a team is an extremely large number if they are not spread out, but are instead stuck in their own half. A 'shrewd' manager knows that football cannot be played in traffic. The result is one team with all of the possession probing endlessly, often side to side, to try to get through a thicket of defenders who refuse to come out and play, lest they open up a space. Without any space, football cannot be played. The beautiful runs, dribbles, and passes require at least some space. Clogging the pitch ensures this will never happen. We are an inferior team, this says, so we will not come out to play. We will stay here, and hope that we can hang on in our own half for 90 minutes.

    Okay, there were some questionable referring decisions and some calculated fouls too.
    The referee in these games must ensure that thuggery will not prevail. Sadly, this referee allowed far too much of it, which, combined with the anti-football tactics, ensured that we would not see a match.

    But do you think that any Barca player would hesitate to go down easily in the box if he thought it would benefit his team.
    I don't condone diving. (And if anyone were to go down easily, for heaven's sake, it would be the odious Mr. Drogba!) What skillful players like Ronaldo or Henry or Messi often resort to is a bit of a dive to highlight the fact that they need protection from thugs who are afraid to play them, and instead hack them. I don't condone it, but it wouldn't be necessary if referee's immediately signalled that thuggery will not be tolerated.

    Their snobbish perception towards how the game 'should' be played is deluded and disrespectful.
    Snobbish?? That wasn't football. Any unbiased (non-English, non-Spanish even) observer of that match would agree that wasn't football by Chelsea. Football is a beautiful game of offense and defense. Chelsea played no offense, and ensured that Barca could play no offense as well. To detest that is not snobbery, it's a understanding for and a love of the game as any neutral oberserver would want it to be played. And as for respect . . . it's a game, first of all, and second of all, I indeed have NO respect for the hideous tactics of Chelsea. I understand you think this over the top, but I find that it's killing our beautiful sport, making it uglier and uglier, and discouraging the beautiful game. And that's, to me, disgusting.

    Finally, I believe that calculating that you are outmatched and thus refusing to play (for what Chelsea did was a refusal to play, plain and simple) is profoundly cowardly. For a team of millionaires assembled by a billionaire and coached by a millionaire to do so is particularly so.

  • Comment number 78.

    would agree with post no.72;

    To claim the Premier League is the best in the world is to forget that our UEFA cup performances are absymal,our so called 5th, 6th, 7th best teams are no match for those or similar standing in Spain, Italy or Germany. While Arse, Chels, MU and Livpl can all cut it with anyone, I'm afraid anything below 4th in the Premier League so not up to standard with the rest of Europe, and that is why other leagues have a variety of teams making up the Champions League places each year where as in England its the same 4 year in year out...


    ================================

    and what of those in spain and italy. why are you bashing clubs from england. clubs from spain and italy also went out of the competition early. at least man city finished as quaterfinalist

  • Comment number 79.

    Forget the Uefa Cup, outside the big four, none of the English teams can cut it against their Spanish equivalents.

  • Comment number 80.

    Rio etc. It is more than one game. It is a growing scourge on the sport, and to see it condoned is most offensive.

    Bandwagon? Sorry mate, but I'm not a young one. I've been railing against anti-football for decades, be it the intentional fouling of Pele in '66, or Maradona later, or the catenacio of so many Italian teams that made me sick to my stomach.

    Where was I for the earlier quarters? Probably at work! But to take your point, an inquiry into whether my stance is principled or simply biased against the Blues, I deplore anti-football whether employed by Liverpool or Chelsea or every Italian national team in the last three decades.

  • Comment number 81.

    Arsenal will lose this tie as Man Utd will score at least 1. If thats the case then Arsenal need to score 3 or more. Only one team has put more than 2 past Utd all season and that was us(Liverpool) at OT. Wenger is trying to create an optimistic mood but Arsenal's defence will concede at least 2.

  • Comment number 82.

    #38 - as a neutral in this deabte (York City fan) i think you have also fallen foul of that with which you accuse Man U fans in terms of rose tinted time glasses. I agree that it was not quite as one sided as many Man U fans claim, but your recollection failed to mention a disallowed (correctly) goal by Ferdinand and Ronaldo hitting the post. For all the possesion and "chances", Arsenal failed to get a shot on target until extra time when a RVP free kick had to be saved by Carroll.

    With regard to the clash on Tuesday, Arsenal have to stop Man U scoring if they are to give themselves a chance.

    Poltergeist 23, i agree with others that the results in the end will state clearly in the record books of the future who was the best team in Europe this season. If you had said who played the most attractive and watchable football with arguably the best array of talent..then i may agree that Barca fit the bill.

  • Comment number 83.

    Ferguson isn't liked much by outsiders of Man U and I think generally regarded as both crafty and streetwise. Wenger isn't liked much by outsiders of Arsenal and is generally regarded as arrogant. Both have respect of both friends and enemies alike and both know exactly what
    they want/expect from their teams. The first goal will decide the game I am sure.

  • Comment number 84.

    78. At 6:46pm on 04 May 2009, rockreddevilsforlife wrote:
    and what of those in spain and italy. why are you bashing clubs from england. clubs from spain and italy also went out of the competition early. at least man city finished as quaterfinalist
    =================================

    2007 final Sevilla v Espanyol
    2006 winners Sevilla
    2004 winners Valencia

    granted Italy and Germany have not performed that well, but the Spanish have. 1 winner in 10 years does not suggest the PL is the best standard in the world, it merely has the best 4 teams in the world...

  • Comment number 85.

    Correction to my comments at #82, it was Rooney not Ronaldo who hit the post as did Van Nistlerooy.

  • Comment number 86.

    As an Arse fan, I reckon we will need a minor miracle but we have been here bofore and come out on top. Man U only need to score 1 and they have goal scorers all over the place, where as the Arsenal forwards were getting isolated to easily by Manu U. Wenger says this will change, - it needs to. If we are to have any chance then we need to start very fast score first and second, to get Man U to start questioning their confidence. Playing a typical Arse style fast game will also ask questions of the yellow card holders.

  • Comment number 87.

    henryzola...

    i was reading one of your earlier posts about all-out defending with "clipping ankles and shirt pulls" as "disgusting" and "anti-football". also you were talking about a team should try to beat an opponent etc.

    i'd like to hear your thoughts on diving. personally i think diving is anti-football and disgusting, far worse than chelsea last week.

  • Comment number 88.

    38. At 3:34pm on 04 May 2009, U11148453

    I think you are on your own mate! I know Arsenal season ticket holders who totally agree Arsenal barely created a chance.

    Try reading the 'rose tinted' BBC match report (or any other match report for that matter!):

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/fa_cup/4558271.stm

  • Comment number 89.

    molywop,

    I too am offended by diving, but I can't remotely put it in a league with killing off an entire game, foreclosing the possibility of football. It is relatively rare and fleeting, a few moments a game, and most of those are not rewarded consequentially (only a few penalties on dives). So it sickens one, and annoys, but the game is played for 90 more minutes without much affect, unless of course it's rewarded with a penalty.

    To take an example, Ronaldo plays beautiful football, and is one fo the most entertaining players in the world. When he dives, I yell and cringe, and at times I am outraged, but it hardly ruins the whole game for me, or negates all of the positive contributions.

    But again, I don't want to condone it: the referees need to crack down on it, warn and flash the yellow. Too often, they wave off the histrionics without actually stopping and flashing a yellow to deter further fraud.

  • Comment number 90.

    The most loyal and ardent gooner would surely acknowledge that United have a stronger squad and would be favorites to progress. On average in games between the two, I reckon that United would win say 7 times out of 10, but its not that predictable. The reason we all love sport is because of the unknown! You can read in the tabloid press what going to happen next in Eastenders ... but you ain't got a clue what the result of tomorrow's match will be. As an Arsenal fan myself, I just have this wild and irrational feeling that its our year! So yea, Arsene I just reckon that this time your confidence is well-placed

  • Comment number 91.

    kingeric1997 wrote:

    2007 final Sevilla v Espanyol
    2006 winners Sevilla
    2004 winners Valencia

    granted Italy and Germany have not performed that well, but the Spanish have. 1 winner in 10 years does not suggest the PL is the best standard in the world, it merely has the best 4 teams in the world...

    __________________________________________________________________________

    Granted Spain have produced three different finalists and two different winners in the last 10 years....England has also produced three finalists in the same period but only one winner, Liverpool.

    However, Valencia also won La Liga in 04 and on each occasion that Sevilla won it they also finished in the top four in La Liga.

    My argument is that England are also likely to have had more success in the Uefa Cup had some of our top 4 teams participated......the facts are that below the top 4 sides in any European league are teams that do not enjoy that much success, when was the last time a team from outside the top 4 in their respective league won anything of note in Europe??

  • Comment number 92.

    Jimmyhoov: A top-class striker and centre-back would also help the team.

    Agreed, we do need a quality centre-back to help when Toure/Gallas is injured, but striker-wise we already have Adebayor, Eduardo and RVP. Yaya Toure (or Senna) would be a magnificent addition, possibly even more so than the centre-back.

  • Comment number 93.

    i am worried because rooney is always likely to get booked. i would go with him on the bench and bring him on if we need him.

  • Comment number 94.

    yeah, well whatever way u look at it, chelsea played negatively against barca - it was boring football or 'stoke' tactics. u can't call fans who are anti-football naive, and those of u who say there's an art into playing a style of football where u try not to lose r talkin a load of old boll***s. come on, just look at the way barca, man u and arsenal play. even liverpool have become more exciting than chelsea recenlt lol, that's saying alot!

  • Comment number 95.

    if Chelsea are an embarrassment to English football for playing a defensive game and getting a vital draw in Camp Nou then what are Arsenal who lost to ManUtd 1-0? they were hardly involved in the game and it was completely one-sided. if anyone deserves praise for taking on Barcelona it is chelsea. we beat them before and we will do so again.

  • Comment number 96.

    Once you get to the final 4 it's too close to call. I would prefer a Barca/Arsenal final because I think that's how football should be played, but experience & cynicism says the Chelsea way produces more results. Don Revie would be proud of them!

  • Comment number 97.

    atillakurt .........try backing up the rubbish you write with some supporting evidence and well reasoned argument. Until such time you can't be taken seriously.

  • Comment number 98.

    Outside the top 4 the best teams in the prem are:

    Aston Villa
    Everton
    Man City
    West HAm

    Spain have only a top 2 really FOR ONE
    SECONDLY, after sevilla, atletico, valencia and villareal there is very little quality whereas out of the PREM TOP 6 there is Man City with much more quality. Tottenham (HATE TO SAY IT), have more quality than Deportivo or Malaga,etc.

  • Comment number 99.

    how many more times am i gona hear.." great defencive display from chelsea"...against barca.....let get this straight if, doncaster rovers played brazil and kept 12 men inside the penalty area,,brazil would find it hard to score...also this away goal needs to be scrapped..i think it would lead to a more open game.

  • Comment number 100.

    henryzola,

    i'm sorry but i can't agree, diving whether it wins a penalty or a free kick in the middle of the pitch, is cheating.

    chelsea playing defensively (or negatively if you like) is well within the rules and i see it as more like a chess match, where two teams of very different styles collide.

    after all its about winning, if chelsea win this years champions league that will be what they are remembered for. surely a team should play to their strengths? if not then maybe rory delaps throw ins are anti football?

 

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