Arsene Wenger is sometimes ridiculed for his faith in young talent. Tonight he showed a lack of faith in some of his players.
How else do you explain the starting line up? Minus Alex Song, Denilson was left on the bench despite being the only other "holding player" in the squad. Fabregas started despite his clear lack of fitness. Van Persie started despite a similar problem, and both Chamakh and Bendtner were left on the bench. Wenger professes his belief in his squad, but tonight his faith only extended to his star men. Taking chances with the fitness of players has become a familiar ploy and this is not the first time we have seen it backfire. Last season, Fabregas played in the first leg of the tie against Barcelona and missed the rest of the season as a result. This time out, he was carrying an injury, I have heard, from the fifteenth minute on. Who is to say what damage had been done by the time his ineffective performance was finally brought to an end by second half substitution.
I know it meant a lot to the guy to play at the Nou Camp. But what about the team? What about the rest of the season? If he is playing a game when he's not ready, it is stupid of him and stupid of Wenger. It hinders Arsenal on the night and, possibly, for the rest of the season. The same goes for the Van Persie gamble. For Wenger to take these risks seems defeatist- like saying, "we cannot beat Barca without these players. Even if Fabregas is half-fit, he's better than a fully fit Denilson". Not the case, especially when playing Barcelona involves having to run yourself into the ground, constantly closing them down. It seems ludicrous to me that, with Arsenal down to ten men and trying desperately to hold onto that 3-2
aggregate lead, an already injured, immobile midfielder was left on, while a fit, defensively-minded one was left sitting pitchside. Fabregas was only withdrawn after Barca had turned the tie around.
After the red card, Barca commenced to batter at Arsenal's door with incessant pressure, and they had been cutting through at will for a long period before Xavi eventually found the net. Wenger failed to act, as if paralysed by his own rage at the injustice of Van Persie's sending off. Arsenal limped on with Nasri as the nominal out ball up front, and with Fabregas, Diaby and Wilshere forming a shield of foam in front of an overworked back four. A more proactive manager would surely have thrown on Bendtner or Chamakh, and Denilson. Admittedly, the enforced change of goalkeeper in the first half did not help, as without that, Wenger probably would have used Denilson at 1-1, knowing that he could still put on Arshavin and one of the forwards if needed.
Still, it seems amazing to me that Wenger seemed to wait for disaster, and then try and change things from a losing position. It's not like Arsenal were comfortably holding out, or even playing well, at 1-1. It was an incessant tide and the manager sat back and watched it grow instead of making changes to try to stem it.
What does all of this say about the likes of Bendtner, Chamakh, Denilson? It disgusts the manager when the fans show a lack of patience with still-developing players. What of his own lack of faith? If he really felt so daunted by Barcelona that he didn't feel he could cope without his main men, he should have considered the bigger picture, and how Arsenal would fare for the rest of the season without them. Because make no mistake, he risked their seasons by playing them in tonight's game. Whatever the manager's outward rhetoric, what kind of self-belief will Bendtner, Chamakh and Denilson carry into the rest of the season? The latter in particular must wonder how on earth he could be deemed an inferior option to the stuttering, choking Diaby, who seemed to lose the ball every time he had it tonight.