Enough of the 'Barca brilliance': Arsenal need to step up

By Avenell Dave

I woke up this morning again wondering how long it will be before Arsenal truly compete with the top sides in world football.

Everywhere I went, newspapers, the radio and the Sky Sports arselickers were waxing lyrical about Lionel Messi and there's no doubt that he is one talented player.

But when Theo Walcott was interviewed after the game, he said something that summed it all up for me: "Sometimes you just have to sit back and admire it."

And that, fellow Addicts, is the problem we have.

We know we have a raw team, packed with talent and potential but lacking experience.

Too many players get overawed by the occasion. Too many players disappear or fail to live up to their own hype or potential on a consistent basis.

We know that we have a huge number of players out - RvP, Andrey Arshavin, Alex Song, William Gallas and Cesc Fabregas would all have made the starting line up last night while Kieran Gibbs, Johan Djourou and Aaron Ramsey would all have made the squad.

But with all those players fit and available, would we really have beaten Barcelona at the Nou Camp or at Emirates last week?

It pains me to say it, but I don't think so.

Even with a fully fit squad, our defensive frailties, our vulnerabilities all over the park are there for all to see.

Don't get me wrong - in Xavi, Iniesta (when fit) and Lionel Messi, Barca have three of the best players in the world.

They would walk into any side who could afford them. We lack such players more than at any other time in Arsene Wenger's reign.

While everyone waxes lyrical about Messi being the greatest player of his generation, it's easy to forget how average we were last night.

We made him look good by ball watching, getting our offside trap all wrong, making a hash of simple clearances and having a goalkeeper who we all know isn't good enough for the highest level.

As Graham McNorthbank said to me last night - if you have one non-international in your side, you really don't want it to be your goalkeeper.

I don't buy it that we can simply admire an opponent and accept that we will never reach such heights.

Parma were one of the great Italian sides of the 1990s and yet with a side containing David Hillier and Ian Selley and lacking star forward Ian Wright, we managed to beat them in the Cup Winners Cup final by getting our tactics right and refusing to be intimidated.

Sure, Barca are up there with the Holland side of the 1970s and AC Milan of the early 1990s, but every side has its weaknesses.

That's what makes defeat last night so disappointing.

We can applaud the mesmeric talent of Barca, the fact that they completed twice as many passes as we did and had so many more shots on target than us.

But yet again, we were intimidated by them from the start and even after Nick Bendtner's goal, we lacked the composure or killer instinct to control the tempo of the game and make Barca ask questions of themselves.

Who knows what would have happened if a mistaken linesman's flag had not been raised when Bendtner ran through again or if we had got to half time a goal ahead?

The fact is, the likes of Patrick Vieira, Marc Overmars, Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry, David Seaman, Tony Adams, Robert Pires and even Nik Anelka were top top class players for us and thesedays, Cesc is about the only top class player we can rely on with any consistency.

The fact that he is getting injured regularly is down to the number of games he is playing, carrying the team at times and putting his body under too much strain.

I said to my Addict colleague Graham McNorthbank last night before watching our defeat that for all those that criticise Arsene Wenger, his ability to get the side competing at this level and with an outside shot at the title, especially with all our injuries, underlines quite how great an achievement it is to push the squad beyond its limits.

But while it's easy to look at how great Barca were last night, our abject defending and lack of matchwinners has got to be addressed if we are going to make the step up to genuine top class contenders rather than a pretty side who entertain but deliver little in the way of trophies.