Spurs break the Wembley curse

Harry Kane’s brace handed Spurs their first win at Wembley and ensured their Champions League campaign got off to a flyer. The 3-1 victory over Peter Bosz’s Borussia Dortmund side means Spurs have a real strong chance of progressing from undoubtedly one of the competitions toughest groups. Heung Min Son opened the scoring inside five minutes when his effort beat Roman Burki at his near post, the Korean international scoring his 7th goal versus Dortmund in 9 fixtures. However it wasn’t long before Yarmolenko leveled things for the away side with a stunning curling effort.

Dortmund to their dismay were only level for 4 minutes before Spurs restored their lead through Harry Kane. The England striker escaped the challenge of Sokratis and fired past Roman Burki who was beaten for a second time at his near post. No doubt some questionable goalkeeping from the Swiss international who arguably should have saved both efforts.

The German side posed a constant threat throughout the game and will be disappointed with the Italian official’s decision to rule out a perfectly good goal from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Tottenham Hotspur once again turned to their talisman to put the game beyond doubt and Harry Kane’s low effort on the hour mark found the bottom corner and sealed the points.

Perhaps the only disappointment on a great night for the hosts was the late red card shown to Jan Vertonghen who was adjudged to have caught Mario Gotze with an arm.

Elsewhere, Real Madrid cruised to a 3-0 victory over APOEL Nicosia of Cyprus meaning they lead the group with Spurs in second.



Classy Juventus Through To The Champions League Final!

Juventus secured their place in the Champions League Final following an emphatic 4-1 aggregate victory over AS Monaco last night.

Leading 2-0 after the first leg, the Italian champions were hot favourites to qualify in front of their own fans and a Mandzukic goal and a brilliant Dani Alves volley both before half time put the tie beyond doubt.

Juventus had kept clean sheets in their last six Champions League games going into this one and when Mbappe finally broke free of the famous back line on 67 minutes the ageless Gianluigi Buffon was there to divert the attempt wide.

From an attack following the resulting corner Mbappe was finally able to break the Juventus resolve from close range. It was the first goal the Italians had conceded from open play in this seasons Champions League.

The game threatened to boil over shortly after, following an apparent stamp on Gonzalo Higuain but there was little in terms of goalmouth action as the Italians inevitably held firm.

Monaco have entertained in this seasons run to the Semi Finals seeing off Tottenham, Manchester City, and Borussia Dortmund and scoring 22 goals in the process, but The Old Lady of Italy proved too strong and in truth saw this tie off at a canter.

They will head to Cardiff for their second final in 3 seasons as a much more rounded side than the team that fell short against Barcelona 2 years ago, with the balance between defence and attack well and truly mastered and quality players all over the park they’ll be more than a match on June 3rd for Real Madrid, who barring miracles will progress tomorrow night to set up a repeat of the 1998 final.

It’s been quite a rollercoaster journey for Juventus since then and after tonight they’ll be confident of completing their return to the summit of European football, 21 years after they last lifted the famous trophy.

The Next Arsenal Manager?

For the 4th consecutive season Atletico Madrid find themselves in the Champions League quarter-finals. Would I bet everything I had on them lifting the trophy in a tournament still full of “bigger clubs”? No, probably not.

Have they got a realistic chance? Of course they have and it’s largely down to Simeone. What makes him so sought after?


To put it simply, Ateltico are a selling club. In the same way that Spurs and Liverpool will continue to be for the next few. I don’t mean they constantly sell players, though if a player becomes truly world class, in all likelihood they will move on.

Radamel Falcao left for Monaco in the summer of 2013 and many questioned who would step up as Atletico’s next great striker. A player who had performed well as a second striker behind Falcao stepped up to carry Atletico – Diego Costa.

If anything, Costa did better than Falcao. Simeone then lost three vital cogs of his team in Thibaut Courtois, Luis, and Costa in one transfer window. Nevertheless, they continue to compete regardless of these setbacks with an almost seamless transition. He just gets on with it.


Simeone is sometimes labelled as one dimensional, though personally I do not think that is the case. Do people expect him to play Barcelona at their own game and get comprehensively beaten?

For me, he has the personality to adapt to any philosophy of playing. Notwithstanding the key Simeone requirement- “Every player in the team has to assist defensively and sacrifice individual expression for the sake of the system.”

Atletico like to sit deep in a narrow, compact shape that they only break to press the ball when the odds of success are high.  When the ball is won, there isn’t much side to side passing. Instead opponents are caught out before they can form their own defensive shape.

Simeone clearly knows that potentially losing the ball in the attacking third is less costly than in midfield. Safety first, chances in the final third. He likes to hurt teams with the ball, not just have it for the sake of it. It’s a philosophy that fits the Premier League perfectly. Take note Arsenal.


He doesn’t just push his players, he stretches them. There’s a key difference. What really impresses me is his ability to do it over time. To come in and have a fiery short term impact is one thing, but to sustain it over time is another.

Guillem Balague pointed out that  “every press conference he ever does has an abundance of words like “humility” sacrifice and “passion””. He has made the players and fans believe in him through this passion and resilience that very few managers, and in fact teams, possess.

High praise

Ranieri explained this week on Sky sports “Madrid play in Italian style. It’s very, very difficult – 4-4-2, very compact, very strong, straightaway go forward. Good players, high quality, high intensity. When I built Leicester, Atletico Madrid was one of the teams I watched.” Ironically it is Ranieri’s former side Leicester that take on Atletico in the Champions league tonight.

No team has collected more victories in the Champions League this season than Atletico Madrid and over two legs they are a match for anyone. I’d like them to win it, for Simeone.




Don’t just blame Arsene, blame yourselves!

Before the game it was Arsene Wenger, during it switched to Gazidis, moved on to Kronke, then after it was the players and then Wenger some more. All contributors to Arsenals current plight but the main culprits still avoid mention.
It’s you. You the Arsenal fans who have allowed this to happen. Arsenals fans for accepting a level for over half a decade that are below the standard that this club should be reaching. For being in Complete denial until now.
I told you this would happen, so did everyone, but you refused to see it.

You’ve caused this. By burying your heads in the sand as the downward spiral and stagnation set in and allowing the people who have made Arsenal their profession and business to fleece the club and yourselves further. By believing the dribble that has come out in press conferences following defeats. By looking for stats to defend consistent poor individual displays. By celebrating records that don’t pertain to anything like what the club are used to.

By allowing yourselves to be sold theories about how unfortunate draws have been the key factor behind European underachievement. By attributing shortcomings to a recurring injury list without ever questioning some players’ desire to get fit. By constantly referencing Tottenham when the heat was turned up in situations that were irrelevant and subsequently avoiding difficult issues. You’ve let your club underacheive because you were too proud to accept the demise and so as a result, instead of being one level below you’ve slipped further to 2 or maybe 3.

Other clubs haven’t necessary improved but at least they’ve tried something, and removed managers and players to demand more from their club. Arsenal haven’t even tried, as fans you have not demanded more from your football club. Instead, you’ve looked for an easy target to make yourselves feel better and the slope gets steeper and steeper everytime. The first 5 years is admirable and the loyalty warranted, but then 5 years becomes 10 and then 15 and gets to 20 & then 50 very suddenly, yet the arrogance continues. You’ve never really stopped to ask why the club have stopped challenging. You’ve never stopped to ask fellow fans why they looked down the table for comparisons instead of up. You’ve never bothered to realise the the manager who you say has stuck by his philosophy abandoned his philosophy almost a decade ago.


You’ve never wondered at what point after 1990 did Liverpool ever imagine they’d go 27 and counting without a title from a greater starting position than yourselves. The attitude that it could never happen to you, has stopped the symptoms being treated.
The only time you have ever challenged anything is when smutterings of your co-supporters have bothered to start to question, and now the group has got bigger and bigger you’ve probably not stopped to wonder if they were actually right when they began, and instead probably think they started too early and the time has come now. You probably still think they were disrespectful.

You probably think the fans of other clubs have no right to comment, and you’re probably right in that it’s not really their business, but you’ve certainly failed to acknowledge that all football fans have a right to share an opinion as an inheritance of being a fan of the beautiful game in a similar way, that you will do when a new manager takes over a big club and doesn’t hit the ground running. More importantly you’ve not ever conceded that they’re actually right this time, and that supporting a team that doesn’t win things doesn’t win as much as you did in the early 2000s and through your history doesn’t weaken their ability to interpret a situation, in fact it probably enhances it.

You’re probably reading this thinking that this is just a bitter fan of another club putting down the mighty Arsenal, and you’re right, except for the bitter part. No one else is bitter at all, they are just able to detach themselves from the emotion and see a situation for what it really is, using their wider range of footballing experiences from situations that they have seen before. I am putting down the mighty Arsenal, and I’m right. The underachievement has gone on far too long. You should be taking that as complement to the football club yet you’re probably not as there is still a bit of you that refuses to treat other teams fans as equals as the pedestal your club once sat on was so high.

What you’ve created is a culture of excuses, a culture of justification and a culture of doing the easy thing. Where looking down and laughing has taking priority over looking up and aspiring to improve and be better. A culture of doing the bare minimum, and the manager and the club and the board have taken the invitation and lined their pockets whilst never needing to improve as the level that was being reached was celebrated there was no requirement to invest or to risk.


You’ve convinced yourself there was no suitable alternative when managers have been and gone who all with the squad Arsenal have had would have made a better fist of a title challenge and a European campaign. Spurs have replaced managers who have achieved their record points total, Chelsea have sacked the special one, Liverpool have removed the man so close to bringing them the title, City have sacked two title winning managers, United sacked their manager one day after winning the FA Cup.

They all wanted more, whilst you didn’t want to change, they may not have achieved their wishes yet or may never will but they and their fans have still demanded the bar be set higher, you wanted to get to this point before the penny dropped. Now it’s gone to far, and the risk becomes bigger, at a time when the foundations for a new leader a weaker, and it could and should have been easy. A club now with divided fans that will make the next guys job nigh on impossible as with every knock he takes there will be the group of die hard wengerites still insisting he shouldn’t have gone.

The wedge has been driven by you as you’ve dismissed the group who saw the trouble first and now it may have to get worse before it gets better. Now is the time to accept you were horribly wrong and not allow yourself to sink back into the mindset that will undermine Wenger’s replacement or the recovery of the team to the top of English football will be daleyed even more, and the 12 will become 15, 20 then 50 in the blink of an eye.

All the while a great club servants reputation and legacy is pounded, he’s like a boxer taking punishment round after round but you sit in the corner not throwing in the towel. He’ll be gone next year and only then can the club start to properly move forward again, the board will have to act as, like you, their belief that the Champions League target will be achieved no matter what has waned.

If things stumble and splutter it had to be worth gambling with something that even the most delusional soul in north London can now see just isn’t going anywhere. So bad has it got that even a 2nd place finish and an FA Cup win is not enough to justify the last decade. You see that now, I know you do. A change has to happen, a risk has to be taken.

Whatever happens, Stick it out. Appreciate the parts of the game that you have not been exposed to for 20 years now. But do not blame anyone else. You’ve sold yourselves and your club short for too long. You’ve let them get away with it. You’ve let him reduce you to this. Deep down there’s no one to blame but yourselves.

Dan De Luca

Deja vu at the Emirates

Deja vu at the Emirates as we suffered our second 5-1 defeat at the hands of Bayern Munich in the space of just 3 weeks.

There’s no doubt even prior to last nights kick off the tie was dead and buried and even Tom Cruise couldn’t have dreamt of completing this mission impossible.

A handful of Arsenal fans participated in yet another pre-planned, half hearted protest regarding the boss’ future and having seen it first hand it was nothing short pathetic.

Before I continue, I’d like to clear up a couple of refereeing decisions that have left sections of our support outraged and given the clueless ones an excuse to latch onto as to why we were dumped out of the competition.

Walcott Penalty Appeal

At the time of the incident, I called for a penalty. I was convinced that Xabi Alonso made zero contact with the ball and simply took out Theo.

I’ve watched it back more than ten times since and whilst I now think the referee got this wrong, the fact it took me so many replays to decide means I won’t be using it as a sole excuse for our exit.

Verdict: Incorrect Decision, but at full speed a tough one to call.

Bayern Penalty & Koscielny Sending Off

Laurent Koscielny made no attempt to play the ball and by the rules he was correctly shown a red card. The confusion came when the referee firstly brandished the yellow card and then proceeded to show a straight red just seconds after.

I initially thought Koscielny may have said something out of line and that was the reason for his dismissal but it has since come to light that the referee was correcting his initial mistake.

Here at SSN we have been receiving messages stating that Koscielny’s dismissal was wrong based on the current rule around “denial of a goalscoring opportunity”

Below is the up to date rule and so the officials were within their rights to dismiss the Arsenal defender if they adjudged it to be a foul.


There is certainly a case that Lewandowski was offside, that’s a whole different argument and isn’t up for debate so once again we can feel hard done by.

Verdict: Incorrect decision. Lewandowski is in an offside position initially and so the rest of it isn’t worth debating.

In reality, those two moments are not the reason we lost this tie, wake up Gooner’s!

As I mentioned above, the tie was done and dusted before a ball was even kicked tonight.

We are a side who lack belief in our defensive capabilities and the heavy beatings we’ve taken at the hands of our rivals in recent years have contributed and are evidence to this.

Some may call me negative but having conceded the equaliser and accepted the fact the tie was over my priorities would have been completely different.

There comes a point where as a manager you need to accept the tie is over, shut up shop, get a draw out of the game, a positive result you can build on going forward.

On the night, decisions went against us and the tie was over, as a manager there’s nothing you can do about that.


However, you can do your upmost to ensure your team get a positive result and then take those positives to grow and improve for what’s left of the campaign.

In true Arsenal style we did the complete opposite and capitulated. This great club has suffered another damaging and embarrassing defeat.

Ten goals conceded on aggregate, sealing our place as the number one laughing stock of Europe.

Football is a confidence game and that only comes from positive results. We may have it in abundance as an attacking force but the fans nor the players believe we are capable of defending competently when it matters.


Both Wenger’s and his players attitude was nothing short of appalling once Bayern equalised.

It’s as if to say who cares, I can just blame it on the decisions. There’s always somebody else to blame. Once again, no accountability amongst players or manager for our capitulation in BOTH fixtures.

Wenger slumped further into his seat, a beaten man and as the pressure on him mounts I wouldn’t be surprised if he announced his departure in the coming weeks.

Prior to this fixture all I wanted was to see Arsenal fight and get a positive result on the night. Sadly that was only evident in the first half. I was the first to praise them on their first half display so I have every right to criticise their second half showing.


Domestic Cup’s versus Euro Qualification – Sofa Sports News

Domestic Cups vs European Qualification

Being a lifelong Arsenal fan and for the most part through the Wenger-Era I’ve become accustomed to seeing my team qualify for Europe’s premier competition – the UEFA Champions League.  In recent years the Gunners have been accused of a lack of ambition and branded as underachievers.  For a club with the infrastructure, financial muscle and history of Arsenal is simply qualifying for the tournament enough?

There is an ongoing debate at sofasportsnews.com around whether as fans you would prefer to win one of the domestic cups or finish in the top four, meaning Champions League Qualification.

Matt Le Tissier (Ex-Southampton player) was quoted on sky sports last night as saying he would have preferred to walk out in a cup final for his beloved Saints than qualify for Europe and I’m sure there are plenty who would share that view.


As supporters, we all love a trip to Wembley and watching your team win a final, lift the trophy and create memories is what football is all about.  The harsh truth is that the average football fan won’t remember the team who finished 4th and qualified for the group stages of the champions league but they will certainly remember the trophy winners.


Prior to me writing this piece I read a number of convincing arguments from both sides.  It’s been a hot topic of debate in the ‘Football Fan Network – sofasportsnews.com’ Facebook group and rightly so.

Football has become a huge business right around the globe and to an extent you could argue that it’s beginning to lose its identity.  The importance of tradition and history are gradually fading away and as a result clubs priorities have shifted drastically.

Take the Premier League TV deals for example; the benefits of the lower end clubs surviving in the Premier League outweigh that of winning one of the domestic cups.  The same can be said at the top end of the table, Champions league qualification is more financially rewarding than winning either of the domestic cups or even both together!  At the end of the 2015/16 season the Premier League published the earnings of each of the 20 clubs from the domestic and overseas TV revenues.  The figures were crazy!

Click here to see the Premier League Clubs earnings 2015/16

These figures are set to rise with the Premier League having secured a record breaking £5.136 billion deal for Broadcasting rights concerning the period of 2016-19, they sold for 71% more than the previous deal (2013-16).

The Premier League really is the promise land and so survival will inevitably be the priority and the main objective for the majority of clubs therefore devaluing the domestic cups further.


Prize Money

We’ve already established that money makes the football world go around and so let’s compare the financial rewards for winning either of the domestic trophies against those of qualifying for European competition.

FA Cup Prize Money: £2m (winners)                              

EFL Cup Prize Money: £100k (winners)

UEFA Europa League: €2.3m (Group Stage Participation)

UEFA Champions League: €12.7m (Group Stage Participation)

Even the purist of football fans would have to admit the difference in financial reward is staggering! Still surprised that certain clubs would rather finish in the top 4 than win one of the two domestic trophies?



As fans we all want to win things, enjoy a day out, celebrate a final victory and we don’t have too much interest in the financial affairs of our clubs.  However, when you consider all of the factors in the modern game it’s clear that European Qualification must be prioritized in order to keep up with your rivals.

Supporters think with their hearts whereas, club owners and shareholders think with their heads!  From a business point of view (which football has become) its a no brainer and this goes a long way in highlighting the disconnect between the fans and their clubs in the modern era.




Is it happening again?

Is it happening again?

It looks as though once again, Arsenal will finish the Champions’ League group stage as runners up behind PSG.  In recent campaigns the Gunners have often failed to win their group and as a consequence been drawn against the likes of Barcelona and Bayern Munich in the last 16.

Arsenal tend to throw the tie away in the first leg with a disappointing home performance, thus leaving themselves with an almost impossible task going into the second leg.  The second leg arrives and free from the weight of expectation the Gunners often produce one of their strongest performances of the season.

Flirting with the possibility of completing the mother of all comebacks, yet just falling short.  Sound familiar?  Well it should do by now because it’s been happening for as long as I can remember.

Let’s not forget we still have match day 6 to come and so it’s not unthinkable that we could still top the group.  However, with PSG welcoming Ludogorets to the Parc Des Princes and us travelling to Basel I wouldn’t bet on it.


Arsenal have failed to perform anywhere near the levels we are capable of in the last 3 fixtures.  Consecutive draws with Spurs, Man Utd & PSG are respectable results in isolation but it’s the performances that are a cause for concern.

Our spark is missing, there’s a lack of creativity and the fluidity you associate with Arsenal is no longer there for the neutral to admire.

The imbalance in our midfield is clear for all to see.  The absence of Santi Cazorla has had a far greater affect than anyone could have imagined.  Despite having a number of options in Xhaka, El Neny, Coquelin and Ramsey, none of the aforementioned players posses similar qualities or attributes to the little spaniard.

It’s hard to judge Granit Xhaka completely until he has a consistent run of games in the side but what I can tell you for certain is that none of the others mentioned are comfortable enough on the ball and all of them are lacking in terms of creativity.

We are missing our deep-lying playmaker and I fear if he remains sidelined for too much longer we could see our title chances fade away.

Hector Bellerin put a smile on all of our faces this week by committing his long term future to the club.  Without doubt the best full back in the league and certainly one of the best in Europe.  He’s no doubt been a huge component of our recent success and we are evidently missing his ability to join in the play and carry the ball down the right hand side.

It’s clear to see the gulf in class between Bellerin and Jenkinson and you’d be silly to underestimate the impact this is having on our attacking play.

Olivier Giroud has been in fine form of late and although he got his name on the score sheet again, his overall performance last night was disappointing.  There’s a clear lack of mobility and he’s inability to press allows the opposition to settle on the ball in defensive areas.  What he does give you is a target, somebody that can hold up the ball and an aerial threat of real potency – assuming he gets the service.

Who should start up front versus Bournemouth on Sunday and what should the midfield pairing be?  These are the big decisions Wenger faces going into the weekend and he cannot afford to get it wrong versus a useful Bournemouth side.


Check out the latest episode of the sofasportsnews.com podcast by clicking on the image above.

Is it happening again?

Arsenal are a side lacking ideas and it appears as though some of our stars are running on empty.  We need to find some inspiration from somewhere and despite failing to win in the last 3, I have to agree with Mr Wenger, it’s a bit early to panic and say ‘It’s happening again!’

There is still a lot of football to be played this season 😉



Juggling the Champions League & A New Stadium


It’s no secret that Arsenal’s move to the Emirates stadium was a painful one.  During a tough period stretching over a number of seasons Arsenal were a club under great financial strain, struggling to build a competitive squad on limited funds and facing a constant battle to keep their own star players due to them not consistently challenging for the games major honors.

Recent years have seen the Arsenal splash the cash on the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Granit Xhaka.  This is now possible at Arsenal due to the stabilization of the clubs finances.  Arsene Wenger managed to steer Arsenal through a turbulent and challenging time and now the club are reaping the rewards.  One of the countries biggest clubs, a talented squad, state of the art stadium/facilites and the ability to compete financially with MOST clubs.

During that period Champions League qualification was an absolute MUST and the financial reward of that is essentially what got the Gunners through this challenging period relatively quickly.  Arsene Wenger deserves a lot of credit for that.


History repeating itself?

Now, ten years later we are seeing the same cycle just a few miles down the road.  Spurs find themselves fighting for Champions League Qualification whilst battling with the financial implications of redeveloping White Hart Lane.

Last night saw Spurs crash out of Europe’s premier competition in the group stages and it seemed to me as though Pochettino’s eyes were firmly on their EPL clash with Chelsea this weekend.

My view prior to the start of this years Premier League campaign was that Spurs’ squad did not possess the depth nor quality to maintain a title challenge whilst participating competitively in the Champions League.

That view hasn’t changed and based on Pochettino’s selection last night you would have to question whether he believes in his fringe players as much as some of the supporters do.


He is a smart, innovative and brave young manager but by the same token he is fully aware of his squads limitations and thankfully for the club he recognizes the longevity of this project.

Spurs will have to remain patient and understand that they too will face similar challenges to those overcome by their fiercest rivals.  A lack of funds will be compensated by the promotion of youth and their lack of strength in depth will be compensated by prioritizing certain competitions.

A development as costly as a stadium expansion can be a long and painful transition but without this period of suffering the club will never progress to the level of Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool etc.

Pochettino will be kicking himself.  I’m sure hes beginning to recognize the squad required further strengthening over the summer, given the step up in European competition.

Perhaps with the stadium coming the funds just simply were not available?  Remind you of another club in North London?


Football is a business…

Spurs supporters have often accused Arsenal of turning into a business. The reality of it is that Spurs will have to focus all of their efforts on making the Champions League year in year out because the financial reward and the status of being a Champions League club is the foundation on which the club can grow.

The buzz of travelling with your team to places like the Bernabeu, the San Siro, the Allianz Arena etc and competing with the worlds best teams is what the Champions League is all about.  To say you don’t crave that as a fan is to disbelieve in the magic of the game.

The sad thing is, a clubs objectives are set out in line with their business interests as opposed to achieving just their footballing goals.  Spurs may have gone out of the group stages with a whimper but their only real goal is to qualify for next years competition.








Pep Beaten At His Own Game

Barcelona 4-0 Man City

Lionel Messi scored a hat-trick for Barcelona last night as they beat Manchester City 4-0 in Champions League, while both teams were reduced to 10 men on Pep Guardiola’s return to the Camp Nou.

Messi’s hat-trick came courtesy of 3 well taken strikes of that magical left foot, which leaves many fans (myself included) convinced we are watching the greatest footballer of all time. He now has 16 goals in 15 games against English clubs , notching up his 37th career hat-trick.

As Rio Ferdinand correctly stated after the game “we are lucky to still be watching him at his peak ” before joking that he wouldn’t have minded an off night where he scored a handful of goals.


There were times when City did get going – the shot count on target for example eight to six in Barcelona’s favour. Guardiola’s decision to introduce Agüero with only 11 minutes to go was slightly perplexing given Barcelona had lost two of their key defenders in Jordi Alba and Gerard Piqué to injuries in the first half

But Guardiola said he selected an XI without a recognised striker in an attempt to match Barcelona in midfield and prevent them from establishing their customary dominance. It’s funny that the critics of Mourinho’s defensiveness on Monday night that caused such a backlash in comparison will inevitably go quiet on this one …..
In the end, though, City produced error after error ranging from Fernandinho’s slip that allowed Messi to get his 1st goal to the loose pass from Ilkay Gündogan that found Luis Suárez, who laid on Messi’s third.

However , mistake of the match came on the 52nd minute from Claudio Bravo, which led to the goalkeeper’s red card. I respect that Bravo was attempting to play the pass, although I’m sure SSN host “row z Harry ” would not have approved of the attempt! People will always like different styles of football ….but I doubt any city fans will justify Bravo’s antics.


Pep’s Approach

Guardiola’s starting formation could best be described as 4-1-4-1 or a 4-1-5 at worst. Adopting a “man for man” press , City’s spare man was effectively goalkeeper Claudio Bravo.
Though Bravo is often seen 25 yards off his line to form a passing triangle with his centre-backs, it proved costly this time for City

When City had the ball, Pablo Zabaleta, the right-back, stepped up and inside into midfield, alongside Fernandinho. John Stones, the central defender, too, was encouraged to step up and so were the more advanced central midfielders.

The 3 man defence created when Zabaleta moved forward has it’s positive and negatives. A major positive of a three men defence is to out-muscle and out-number teams which have a hefty midfield .

I guess the lesson for Pep is that if you do try and play Barcelona at their own midfield possession game then don’t lend a helping hand with a catalogue of errors. In the end , ironically , Pep was beaten at his own game at the Nou camp. The one started by Cruyff and mastered by himself. Football is a funny old game.


Sofa Sports News

Spurs’ Champions League campaign stays on track in Germany.

Lots to do, but Spurs’ Champions League campaign stays on track in Germany.

After a home defeat in the first game in the groups, and facing consecutive away games, maybe 4 points was the best Spurs could have hoped for at the halfway point in Group E.

Qualification is firmly in the balance but the draw against Leverkusen has meant it’s still all to play for in an even group.

In truth, Pochettino should feel fortunate to have escaped from Germany with the point that has kept them in the top 2 spaces. Despite a good first half performance in which the lead could have been taken two or three times Leverkusen took the game to Tottenham who looked jaded and out of ideas in the attacking third, creating some great chances to score a winner, including a desperate goalline scrambled save from Hugo Lloris. Replays proved that the ball had been kept out, but as impressive as the save was, the finish was directed in the only place a goalkeeper could have any chance of reaching.

It’s easy to accuse a team of being tired when things don’t appear to be going well, but that’s not excuse I like to hear, particularly so soon into the season. Spurs, with the exception of Wanyama, did seem to lack energy though as their opponents dictated the play and dominated the midfield battles. Spurs’ usually breathless full backs barely featured in an attacking sense in the second 45.

Even the introduction of Dembele didn’t improve the fortunes much, as I found myself often watching the clock rather than the match hoping for it to tick down to the full time whistle before the home side made one of their chances pay.

As Dembele entered the game and Jannsen left it, it was a reminder that Spurs had started this game without their preferred spine of Alderweireld Dembele himself and Kane. That considered, maybe this should be seen as a point gained although only qualification will make that so.

Two tough games coming up against Leverkusen again and our conquerors in the opening game Monaco, that also coincide with a difficult run of London Derbies in the league, will be a real test of the squad with the league sure to take priority. We will need to see a minimum of 3 points gained to be taken into the last game if this years champions league campaign is going to have chance to extend into the knockout phases.

I’ll back Tottenham to be good enough to squeeze out of the group, but Pochettino would have hoped to have made easier work of one of the simpler groups in the draw, and will know a lot of improvement is needed at this level should the really big boys come calling.

De Luca

Sofa Sports News

The Theory Behind Wenger’s Questionable Team Selections

As I settled on the sofa to watch my beloved Arsenal take on the mighty PSG I scrolled through my twitter feed to check Wenger’s starting lineup and see what the mood was like amongst Gunners fans.   To say I was surprised with the selection was an understatement.  I had spent the past couple of days defending Wenger’s team selection on Saturday purely on the basis that he was resting players for the Champions League clash in Paris.

So you can imagine my shock when summer acquisition Granit Xhaka and Arsenal’s only recognized centre forward Olivier Giroud were left out for the second time in less than a week.  Wenger opted to go with David Ospina between the sticks despite the backlash that same decision brought in last season’s Champions League campaign.  The Colombian stopper justified his managers show of faith with a solid performance and he made a number of very smart saves – its clearer than ever that Arsenal do really have two top class goalkeepers in the ranks.


The Match

Even the most pessimistic of Gooner’s couldn’t have foreseen a worse start, Laurent Koscielny was caught too high up the pitch with Francis Coquelin chasing shadows and once Serge Aurier broke free down their right hand side there was no catching him.  A pinpoint delivery and an instinctive finish from Edinson Cavani gave PSG the lead and that all too familiar thought of ‘here we go again’ sprung to mind.

Despite having a fair share of the possession in the first half (49% to be precise) we failed to create any chances and PSG were cutting through us like a knife through butter.  Edinson Cavani squandered two fantastic chances, most notably the one where he took the ball around Ospina and shot wide.  Just imagine what we’d all be saying if that was Giroud!

The second half started somewhat more positively and Arsenal were keeping the ball for long periods but there was still no cutting edge.  It was only a matter of time before PSG began pulling us apart and by-passing our non-existent midfield, but for a host of smart saves from David Ospina it would have been Goodnight for the Gunners in Paris.

Thankfully, in what was probably our first meaningful attack of the game Mesut Ozil picked out Alex Iwobi in the penalty area, the Nigerian’s shot was blocked and Alexis was right on cue to rifle it into the bottom left corner. 1-1! It was a strange feeling, a mixture of joy at the equalizer but also frustration as to why it had taken 78 minutes for Arsenal to carry any sort of meaningful threat.

Arsene Wenger will be pretty pleased with himself, the introduction of Giroud was vital in creating the space for Iwobi and like I mentioned in my last post – just having a forward to occupy the centre halves can make all the difference.  The Frenchman coming on and Alexis Sanchez being able to move back into his familiar role of wide left ultimately made the difference.

The decision not to play a striker was a strange one but I don’t think this is the last time we will see Wenger adopt this approach in the so called bigger games.  Here’s why…

 In all my years of watching the Arsenal that wasn’t the first time I’ve been scratching my head over the boss’ selection and it certainly won’t be the last.  At first, I just thought it was another poor selection and I couldn’t see the vision or indeed the idea behind his selection.  Before I continue, I am not suggesting that this approach worked and it’s important to note we were very fortunate to leave the Parc Des Princes with a point.  However, despite all of that it was clear that Arsene had at least tried to adapt his approach to this particular game – something that we’ve often criticized him for failing to do.

There were a number of differences to our set up. Most of them, I struggled to make sense of, in particular early on in the game.



 Usually the anchor in our midfield, patrolling left to right in front of the back four and putting out fires.  Francis Coquelin was found pressing further up the pitch than normal and on occasions was further forward than even Mesut Ozil!  I can’t for a moment believe that a player who is usually so disciplined would be pressing in the last third unless instructed by the manager to do so.  This had a negative impact on our defensive shape because every time PSG won possession and broke on us the midfield was nowhere to be seen.


Under Arsene Wenger we have been known to play a high line where possible, pushing up to the half way line and squeezing our opponents in – you could say a good way of sustaining pressure.  While we try to do this as often as possible the fact that Mustafi is playing rather than Per Mertesacker seems to have encouraged us to push that little bit further up the pitch, there is no longer a clear lack of pace in the central defensive department to cause major concern.

However, this issue should be approached with caution.  As happy as I am with the signing of Mustafi its clear for all to see that his understanding with Koscielny will need time to develop and I just feel that playing such a high line leaves no margin for error.  You only need to look at the amount of times PSG broke through the middle of our defence last night to see exactly what I mean.

I am firm believer that in order to have a strong central defensive partnership you require two different styles of centre halve that compliment each other’s games.  Koscielny tends to play on the front foot, often stepping out of the back four to close space and going toe to toe with his opponent.  Over recent seasons he has usually been the one to man-mark the opponents striker.  One of the reason’s he developed such a strong partnership with Per Mertesacker was because their styles did exactly that, compliment each other.  Per will take a calmer approach, dropping off as the spare man and often reading the danger early from his ‘withdrawn’ position allowing him to get his starting position right and move across to deal with it.

It’s not that I don’t like Mustafi but during his first two games for the Arsenal something about the way he plays just reminds me of Thomas Vermaelen – that all action style.  I don’t believe you can get away with having two centre halves wanting to play on the front foot, both constantly committing themselves and stepping out of the back four to make challenges, it leaves you far too exposed and the better teams will pick you off.  Some of you may disagree and I am hopeful they will develop a strong central defensive partnership together but one of them will certainly have to adapt their game for the benefit of the team.


No recognized striker on the pitch is something we are beginning to see more and more of in football.  To use a Premier League example, Jurgen Klopp has had plenty of success in the ‘bigger games’ by refusing to play a recognized centre forward.  I feel this can be successful for a number of reasons…

  1. It allows you to dominate possession, when necessary the midfield becomes a six and you end up simply over running your opponents in the midfield area.
  2. It allows freedom of movement – as long as a couple of your midfielders are disciplined enough and sit in front of the back four it pretty much allows your more advanced players to be able to interchange positions and makes it almost impossible for your opponents to man mark and keep tabs on them.
  3. There are no passengers in this system (when played correctly!) – When you haven’t got possession of the ball you can fill up the midfield with bodies and the numbers allow you to close more of the spaces and press your opponents effectively.

As I mentioned in my last blog entry we never seem to carry enough of a threat when Sanchez or Walcott for example play as the striker.  Teams tend to load the middle and without a physical presence or focal point in attack we just don’t seem to create very much.

I feel Giroud’s presence and physical strength occupies the central defenders, giving them something to worry about and therefore creating spaces for others to exploit – last night’s goal was a perfect example.  It’s as clear as day for all to see that were not getting any joy playing that way.


Is Arsene Wenger silly enough to persist with something that clearly isn’t working or are we seeing a transition as a result of him trying to implement something new? A plan B perhaps?

I think and I hope it’s the latter – it’s clearly something that requires a lot more work but a small part of me was glad to see us trying to adapt ourselves to better cope with our opponent’s strengths.

Time will tell whether it’s something Arsenal decide to persist with and despite the questionable performance I woke up with a smile on my face.  A big European result and let’s hope we can make it past the last 16 this time!



Sofa Sports News

UEFA Champions League Final Preview – Alavi

The UEFA Champions League final is just around the corner and once again it will be a side from Spain taking home the most iconic trophy in European football. Atlètico Madrid and Real Madrid will fight for the title, with Real Madrid the betting favourites at 6/4. Atlètico are priced at 9/4 with the draw at 23/10.

Team news:
Real Madrid suffered an injury scare in training on Tuesday when Cristiano Ronaldo limped out of training with a thigh injury. Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane had admitted that the Portuguese had not been in peak condition after an injury forced him off when Real Madrid took on Villarreal back in Mid April.

French centre-back Raphael Varane is definitely ruled out of Saturday’s final with a thigh injury of his own, but James Rodriguez (ankle) and Alvaro Arbeloa (knee) should be available after minor knocks.

Alternatively, Atletico Madrid manager Diego Simeone has a fully fit squad to choose from ahead of Saturday’s game.

Manager talk:

“The only failure is not to give everything on the day. We have had time to prepare properly so let’s see how it goes on Saturday. It’s not enough just to have the ball. We are playing against a team that not only defends well – people talk about how well they defend – but Atletico Madrid are a very complete side. Pressure is always there when you are Real Madrid manager. I like it. I had it as a player and now it is ven greater as a coach.” – Real Madrid Manager Zinedine Zidane.

“I anticipate them playing like they did against Manchester City. In the Champions League they have played on the break in almost every game. They have used that to get space; tactically, I think they’ve been very good.” – Atletico Madrid Manager Zinedine Zidane

My Prediction:

Although Atletico Madrid have form on their side, they will have to put in performances of a similar ilk to those displayed in their victories against Barcelona and Bayern Munich if they want to get their hands on the trophy. With the midfield condensed, they will be more than happy to allow Real Madrid to get the ball out wide and get crosses in the box. Despite the aerial strength of Cristiano Ronaldo, their centre-back pairing of Diego Godin and Jose Maria Gimenez have more than proved their worth when it comes to defending their penalty area.While Real will aim to wear their opponents down with their possession game, notably controlled by Luka Modric and Toni Kroos, the industrious Atletico side will be a threat on the counter attack. Antoine Griezmann has already proven that he can infiltrate the Real Madrid defence with his pace, and his goal was the difference between the sides when they last met in February. Atletico Madrid midfielder Koke believes that his side are only out to make history on Saturday, but their motivation will be fueled by the events of 2014 final. Their ambition to avenge this defeat may swing the pendulum in their favour, but only just

As a repeat of the 2014 final, which was decided in extra-time, this year’s edition carries history behind it, with the rivalry between these Spanish giants continuing to gain momentum.Arguably the most influential player on the pitch has to be Cristiano Ronaldo. Having scored 16 goals with just two more needed to break his record of 17 goals in Madrid’s 2013-14 campaign, Ronaldo is obviously a severe threat to the Atlètico’s defence.Not to be outdone, Antoine Griezmann has been significant for Atlètico with seven goals at vital stages throughout the competition. Additionally, and certainly threatening due to his speed, terrific ball control and creativity on the outside, Saul Niguez is a player Real need to shutdown. Struggling in this year’s tournament, Fernando Torres needs to lift for Atlètico in the final. Although he has scored just one goal from eleven matches, Torres is the kind of player who could prove vital in a massive tie such as this one.

1-0 Atlètico Madrid Victory in 90 minutes

SSN predictions

Harry- 0-0 full time. Atlètico to win 1-0 AET

DeLuca- Atlètico to win 1-0 in 90 minutes

Manchester City: Defeat on the night and no sign’s of fight!

Having thoroughly enjoyed Bayern Munich vs Atletico Madrid the night before I was really looking forward to reviewing the clash between Real Madrid and Manchester City.  A tie between two very talented sides, to be played in the ‘holy’ Santiago Bernabeu.  It also saw the return of Cristiano Ronaldo having missed the first leg and a chance for Manuel Pellegrini to take his side to the final in Milan. That would have been a grand farewell for the departing manager.

Sadly, on this occasion the pre-game hype was just talk.  The two sides played out a 0-0 draw at the Etihad in the first leg and so I expected both teams to start cautiously.  After no more than 9 minutes Man City lost their inspirational captain Vincent Kompany to what looked like a muscle injury and they were forced to bring on the ‘walking disaster’ that is Eliaquim Mangala.  I was a nuetral for this one but even I was worried for City when Mangala and Otamendi were now the two responsible for nullifying Real Madrid’s awesome strike force.

The opening quarter of an hour saw Real Madrid dominate possession and begin to pin Man City back into their own half.  Pellegrini’s side were unable to keep the ball for any period of time and the likes of Modric, Kroos and Isco were dictating the play.  The most alarming thing for me was seeing the Madrid forwards come deep to recieve the ball on numerous occasions and being allowed the space to turn on the ball and face City’s back four.  What were Fernando and Fernandinho doing? Here is a better question, what was Yaya Toure doing?

On around about the 20th minute mark Real Madrid broke the deadlock and you can’t say it wasn’t coming.  Gareth Bale’s right footed shot took a huge deflection off Fernando and found its way into Joe Hart’s goal.  Having seen it a few times the deflection proved vital, a huge slice of luck for the home side but based on the opening 20minutes it was probably deserved.

“No big deal” was my initial thought – Manchester City still had to score to progress and so their situation hadn’t really changed a great deal.  Just before half time City showed despite a sluggish, untidy and flat performance thus far they were still well in this tie when Fernandinho cut inside and saw his shot clip the outside of the post.  The effort certainly had Navas scrambling down to his right, a gentle reminder for Los Blancos that a breakaway goal from City could turn this tie on it’s head.

I cracked open another beer and put my feet up for the second half.  Speaking to mates during the interval I kept saying “City need to play this cautiously, if they can hang on in there until the last 20 minutes or so I fancy them to grab that crucial away goal.” Although Zidane’s side dominated possession they hadn’t created much in the way of clear cut chances and so if I was a City fan I’d have taken a huge amount of confidence from that.

Luka Modric missed probably the most clear cut chance of the whole game on 50 minutes.  He took the ball down from a Gareth Bale pass, the keeper spread himself well and managed to get his body in the way.  In all honesty, im pretty certain Modric thought he was offside.  Regardless, that was a huge chance to kill off the boys from Manchester.

I expected City to  rally together and give it one final push in the last 15-20 minutes.  The disappointing Yaya Toure and Jesus Navas had been replaced by Sterling and Iheanacho but even their introductions were not enough to turn the tide blue (or luminous green last night!).  The closest City came to getting the vital goal was from Aguero’s dipping effort in the 90th minute, unfortunately for them it didn’t dip enough to see them through to Milan.

Real Madrid saw the game out with relative ease and now face their cross city rivals Atletico Madrid at the San Siro later on this month.  There is certainly no shame in losing to a team of Real Madrid’s calibre but if I was a City fan I’d certainly be dissapointed at the clear lack of fight and desire on the night.  Even the most die hard City fan would have to be honest and just say “We didn’t do enough on the night.”

A huge opportunity missed for a club relatively new to the European scene.  They need to bounce back quickly and ensure they qualify for next season’s competition, the thought of Pep arriving without Champions League football is the unthinkable but if they are not careful it could become a reality.

Harry Symeou




Harry’s European Football Review & Game Of The Week.

What a week of European football! It’s no secret that over recent seasons I’ve often ridiculed the Europa League and branded it as a ‘second rate tournament’

If the tie between Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool and Dortmund was anything to go by I may start paying a bit more attention to the competition. Despite some great ties in the champions league this week there’s no doubt the Scouser’s trumped it.

Game of the week…

Liverpool 4-3 Dortmund (5-4 on aggregate):

The night was special even before it began, arguably the longest rendition of Liverpool’s ‘You’ll never walk alone’ gave me the goosebumps. Being a Gooner, a part of me felt guilty that I was enjoying it so much!

The game began and Liverpool were caught cold, the Germans were cutting through them like a knife through butter. After 9 mins I thought it was all over, two great goals from Tuchel’s side and I was tweeting something along the lines of ‘it’s all over’

Liverpool pulled a goal back through Divock Origi but when Marco Rues grabbed Dortmund’s third of the night it should have been curtains. I genuinely believe that had it been any other of the English sides it would have been game over but not Liverpool.

The mother of all come backs completed when Dejan Lovren rose at far post to head home the winner. Pandemonium in the ‘Klopp End’.

Klopp’s reds march into the last four and have a real chance of glory. It won’t be easy with Sevilla, Villareal & Shakhtar also in the pot but after that they must fancy their chances.

The German managers energy, passion and style of football is really starting to rub off on his team & with a few additions during the summer they could become a real force.

It’s rare for me as an Arsenal fan to admit enjoying another premier league teams European triumphs but there’s no denying it this time. A captivating, pulsating game and that’s why I’ve made it my ‘Game of the week’.

Elsewhere around Europe the UEFA Champions league didn’t disappoint either…

Manchester City 1-0 PSG (3-2 on aggregate)

Manuel Pellegrini is determined to end his Man City career with a bang and after an impressive two legs versus PSG he’s certainly given himself a fighting chance of achieving that.

Sergio Aguero missed a first half penalty but Kevin De Bruyne’s second half goal sealed their place in the last four and dare I say they might be starting to believe they can go all the way.

Not taking anything away from City but I have to say I felt PSG were poor on the night and will their champions league exit turn up the heat on Laurent Blanc?

My personal view is that City are the weakest of the four remaining sides and I don’t expect them to be in Milan for the final.

Atletico Madrid 2-0 Barcelona (3-2 on aggregate)

Two very contrasting styles made for another awesome tie between Spain’s top two teams. Once again there was controversy throughout, cards, dives, dubious decisions and surrounding the referee at every opportunity. Nothing less than I expected to be honest!

Should Iniesta have seen red for the handball? Did Barca deserve a penalty late on when Koke handled? The referee judged it to have been outside the penalty area.

Get video tech in I say, but you all know my views on that subject by now!

Overall Atletico defended brilliantly and were able to keep the MSN trio at bay for most of the 180 mins of this one. Simeone’s men deserve their place in the last four as the Argentine coach enhances his reputation further.

Real Madrid 3-0 Wolfsburg (3-2 on aggregate)

I’ve not got too much to say about this one other than ‘RONALDO’ – he’s been accused recently of not turning up when it matters.

A winner in the recent Classico and a hat trick in this one certainly demonstrates otherwise. When are people going to stop doubting him!?

Credit to Wolfsburg for making a go of it, many had Real Madrid down to cruise through and after the first leg many of us then said Real were crashing out.

This result as well as the recent Classico win has given Zinedine Zidane some much needed breathing space.

Any team with the quality of player Real Madrid possess has a chance of going all the way. The prospect of another Madrid derby along the way has got me drooling.

Benfica 2-2 Bayern Munich (2-3 on aggregate)

Benfica earned a respectable result in Munich and went into the second leg with some belief. Rightly so, they boasted the best defence in the competition going into this one and didn’t by any means disgrace themselves.

It was always going to be a mountain to climb against the German champions but the Portuguese side ran them very close.

Bayern remain one of the favourites and rightly so, having drawn Atletico in the semi finals I’m sure they will feel they can go all the way to Milan.

UEFA Champions League Semi Final Draw:

⚫️ Manchester City v Real Madrid
⚫️ Atletico Madrid v Bayern Munich

UEFA Europa League Semi final Draw:
⚫️ Liverpool v Villareal
⚫️ Shakhtar v Sevilla

I fancy a Real Madrid v Bayern final in the Champions league followed by a Liverpool v Sevilla final in the Europa League. More entertaining European football on its way.

Have your say on www.sofasportsnews.com

Arsenal’s European woe’s continue…Harry compares Arsenal to the ‘benchmark’ that is Barcelona.

Sloppy error’s mean that Arsenal are crashing out of the Champions league and once again the second leg is yet to be played. My beloved Arsenal have had some really difficult draws in the last 16 over the past 6 seasons but its not just down to bad luck. Failure to win our group has put us in a position to draw the likes of Barcelona, Bayern Munich & Milan (before their demise). Perhaps the most disappointing one of them all was the defeat to Monaco – a side we really should have beat over 2 legs. Once again a disappointing result at the Emirates has left us with too much to do on our travels.

This time around the defeat at home was a harder one to swallow. For the most part of the game we were able to contain the deadly trio of Messi, Suarez and Neymar until we (yep, you’ve guessed it) pushed the self destruct button – that’s what is so frustrating.

Being at the Emirates last night and having spoken to many different fans it’s seems this was the failure the ‘Wenger Out’ mob were looking for to cause another uproar.  I still don’t entirely agree with them but I can understand some of their arguments and I guess as paying fans everyone has the right to voice their opinions.

I don’t necessarily think we lost due to employing the wrong tactics.  I actually thought Monsiuer Wenger set us up right and the first 70 minutes of the game supports my view.

Where did it all go wrong?

My conclusion on this one is simple really, you can sit and watch the game over and over again and try to find a thousand reasons as to why we lost but in all honesty you would be wasting your time. The fact is they have a whole team of world class players whereas we have three or four at best.

Comparing Arsenal & Barcelona – As Club’s and Tactically

FC Barcelona – ‘Mes Que Un Club’ (More than a club)…Never has a slogan been so true, they’re not just a football team who have overspent their way to success after years of mediocrity like a Man City or Chelsea. The Catalan club have a philosophy, one that is followed right throughout the club. There is no doubt in my mind the fact that they play the most attractive football in the world is a much bigger attraction for the top players than the salaries they can pay. FCB is a brand and one that doesn’t look like fading away any time soon.

Arsenal – A club of tradition and one of the UK’s largest and successful clubs, since Arsene Wenger took the reigns back in 1996 he has instilled a philosophy and a brand of football that the club are globally recognized for. The move to the Emirates stadium limited the Gunners resources for a number of season’s but the fact they managed to stay in the champions league places through this transition has put them in the strong financial position. Despite all of the off the field positives there has simply not been enough success on the pitch where it matters.

Many would argue that Arsene Wenger’s team are the best passing side in the Premier League but does that mean we are as good as the mighty Barcelona in possession?

Two teams with similar idea’s of how the game should be played but in reality we play in two totally different competitions (The EPL and La Liga). In order to succeed in the EPL you require a higher level of physicality than in La Liga and the game is played at a totally different pace. I’m not saying one is harder than the other and I won’t disrespect any other league, what I will say is there are clearly differences in the attributes Arsenal and Barcelona require to flourish in their respective league’s.

Barcelona must be doing something right, they continue to dominate both domestically and in Europe and overcome talented sides from all over the continent with relative ease. Since 2005-06 they have won the UEFA Champions League 4 times and are probably the favorite’s to lift the trophy for the 5th time in just over a decade. Therefore proving that technical football, played in the right way conquers all. This is the benchmark, to play the game in the ‘Barcelona’ way and be successful is what I call perfection.

At the Emirates on Tuesday night Luis Enrique’s side faced a stubborn Arsenal for the most part of the game. A narrow, compact and well organised Arsenal were able to keep them out but eventually on 71 minutes the resistance broke and the rest is history.

One of the key reason’s Barcelona are such a formidable force is that they are able to completely control the pace of the game, whether home or away they dictate the play. There were some short periods in the game where we had them on the back foot and were able to create the odd chance but whenever there was a sign of the game becoming ‘fast and furious’ they would win possession, slow the game back down and string together 20-25 short passes. The perfect way to kill your opponents momentum.

A criticism I often throw at Arsenal is that when teams come and ‘park the bus’ at The Emirates Stadium we struggle to open them up.  This was evident in the recent draws versus Southampton and Hull.

Barcelona don’t seem to have that problem and here’s why…

• Width – when struggling to open up a compact team I believe you need to try and stretch them as much as possible.  Pull defenders out of position and widen the gaps between the individual defenders therefore creating openings for midfield runners to expose the space.  Barcelona are extremely effective in this.  For example when their GK is taking a goal kick the two full backs pull out to the touch lines and so do the wingers (Messi & Neymar) I’m talking chalk on their boots!!! The starting positions of Neymar and Messi are so wide that they either a) pull the full backs out with them creating gaps between FB’s and CB’s or b) in the case the FB stays tucked in they recieve the ball in space and have plenty of time on the ball. We all know how dangerous that can be.  With both playing on the ‘wrong’ side if you like, them starting so wide allows them to move into space on their stronger feet.

• Pass completion/ball retention – They simply do not lose the ball, their ability to hold possession gives them rest bite when on the odd occasion their opponent is giving them the run around.  Barcelona had a huge 66% of the possession on Tuesday! I thought we kept the ball well!  The truth is Arsenal don’t anymore and it’s proving to be a problem, more so when you face the likes of them.  I mentioned in my blog a few weeks back that I don’t feel we keep the ball well enough without Santi Cazorla in that midfield and I’m only being proved right.  Aaron Ramsey was much more disciplined yesterday and for that I give him credit, he also worked his socks off! Problem is he gives the ball away far too much and maybe at times tries to play that killer pass too early.  On the rare occasions we won possession last night we had to keep it for periods and make it count.

• Dictating the tempo of the game – Arsenal at times on Tuesday tried to up the tempo and really get at Barcelona, unfortunately we couldn’t sustain it for any period of time. At times, when Barcelona wanted to they were slowing the game down so much they were almost walking in possession.  They have that ability to switch it up at any time with such ease.  Once they have ‘passed you to sleep’ they wait for that lapse of concentration, the slightest gap and they’re in!

Finally, back to my original point… They just have a different calibre of player and the likes of Messi only need a chance whereas the Oxlade-Chamberlains, Theo Walcotts and Olivier Giroud’s of this world need far too many opportunities to score a goal.  It’s not just at the top end of the pitch though, Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano at the back fit into that bracket of technically gifted footballers whilst managing to not make the costly errors Per Mertesacker has been making of late in the vital games.  Different class. That’s why they’re winners and those are some of the things we could implement and learn from, I mean we’ve lost to them enough times by now!