The Antagonist - Two very different Champions League deaths
Published: 09 Apr 2010 - 11:09:20
What a gut-wrenching week for English clubs in the Champions League.
The difference in the degree of suffering lay in the manner of Arsenal's and Man United's defeats and the emotional response they elicited from their respective supporters.
Arsenal can have no real complaints about their emphatic exit at the hands of by far the best team in Europe at the moment.
Barcelona, as they did in the first leg at the Emirates, seemed to be operating on a higher plane than the Londoners.
Initially, there was a clear improvement in Arsenal's approach. They had learned in the first leg that standing off Barcelona was akin to signing their own death warrant so they were tighter and more aggressive, forcing their opponents into errors and leading to an unlikely opener from Bendtner.
Barcelona, however, as great champions tend to do, soon adjusted to this change of tactics and raised the tempo of their movement and passing to almost obscene levels, killing the Gunners off with lightening strikes from an individual who can surely have no equal in World football at the moment.
Lionel Messi stands apart from the rest. His movement and balance is rhythmically hypnotic at times bringing back memories of Best and Maradona in their prime.
Arsenal players looked positively ponderous in comparison to their opponents. They lacked the incisiveness and fluidity of Barca and seemed bemused by the patterns being weaved around them.
Like an outclassed and battered boxer the final whistle must have seemed like blessed relief to Arsenal and their entourage who would have returned to England shell shocked from this trip. Wenger will need all his renowned management skills to lift his players for the more parochial tasks ahead.
Gooners will surely have taken a philosophical view of this defeat, just as Man United fans did after last years final.Beaten by a far superior side...no complaints.
The emotional torment felt by the Man United players and their fans, on the other hand, would have been unbearable as they agonisingly snatched defeat from the jaws of seemingly certain victory.
Where Arsenal were outclassed and never in danger of progressing, United had done the hard work and then contrived to throw it all away.
The latter is, without doubt, the side that regularly provide most drama in the Premier League. The snag with this characteristic is that drama comes in many forms and this was ultimately a tragedy rather than a uplifting performance ; a 'Macbeth' rather than a 'Four Weddings'...
After creating three superb goals and completely mesmerising their opponents, a casual error by Carrick just before half-time gave the Germans hope. The almost tangible sense of anxiety that pervaded Old Trafford at half-time was soon proved justified when a schoolboy error, admittedly by a player still young enough to qualify as such, led to a sending off which completely swung the game.
You feel some sympathy for Rafael because of his youth but he is a professional who is earning enough to buy his own chain of sweet shops and should know better.
Sir Alex would have been fuming and I am certain that, despite his public defence of his player, privately he would have left him in no doubt about the repercussions of his moment of madness.
So we are left with the memory of one team outclassed and the other committing football suicide leaving us with a load of foreign teams ( including the "Typical Germans") to contest the final stages of the greatest club competition in the World.
Defeat is always painful but it is undoubtedly more bearable and less painful when it is inevitable.
For this reason, Reds everywhere will still be smarting from Wednesdays match whereas Gooners will probably have moved on.
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