It’s a phrase you’ve probably read a hundred times since the final whistle was blown in Monaco, and one you will probably hear another hundred before we can move on.
That so many predicted a 2-0 victory owes much to Arsenal’s history in this round of the Champions League, eliminated by a single goal or the ludicrous away goals rule on five of the six most recent occasions our journey has ended here.
But on this occasion there is one thing that is different – one thing that can give us hope that we might just be turning a corner.
CALL A SPADE A SPADE
Usually after this type of heroic failure, the players come out with lines like “it’s not a bad result”, “we needed a little bit of luck” and “we can take the positives”.
After the first leg there are of course the typical recriminations along the lines of “we’ve given ourselves a mountain to climb” and “we believe in our day we can beat anyone”. This time was no different in that regard.
The real difference this time though was that post second leg, there was little in the way of comment on the gutsy performance or how the players gave it their best.
No, this time the interviews all returned to the first leg, about how it’s not good enough, about how we must learn.
For the first time after a “heroic failure” the players are not looking for excuses or for pats on the back, they are holding their hands up and saying that they must not let this happen again.
TOO LITTLE TOO LATE
Of course, it’s easy (and correct) to say that this is a lesson we have had plenty of chances to learn. Bayern, Barcelona, AC Milan – these ties were all cut from the same cloth.
Yet Per Mertesacker, culpable for much of the first leg misery along with his goalkeeping colleague, was brutally honest in his assessment after the game, saying:
“The best team went through, they deserved it because of the first leg.
“We had to come back from a massive deficit. We played well today but it wasn’t enough.
“The beauty of the Champions League is if you have one bad game you are out.”
No room for misinterpretation there – we did not deserve to go through because we didn’t play a 180 minute tie. No excuses, just we must do better next time.
I would perhaps question the use of the word ‘beauty‘ in that context though…
Defensive partner Koscielny had a similar message, saying:
“We say the same thing every year. Our first game is catastrophic. We have to put it right… play well in two games.”
Perhaps it’s down to the quality of opposition – in spite of Monaco’s much heralded defensive record, we were able to cut them apart in both legs. The expectations from the fans and the players were higher.
Yet there is a steep change in the response from inside the club. Even Arsene refused to get too drawn into the script around heroic failure, saying:
“They really surprised us in the first leg when we were too sure of ourselves on the night.
“Football is not a fairytale, it is a matter of being realistic and being clinical, maybe a bit lucky as well.
“Overall we pay that in the first game we did not produce the performance we wanted.”
MINOR SILVER LININGS
In spite of the players and manager refusing to focus too much on the positives, there were a few other glimpses of light at the of a very long Round of 16 tunnel.
For all the talk of heroics in past years, it’s easy to forget how much Arsenal have ridden their luck in those comeback games, particularly the first Bayern game. Against Monaco, we genuinely placed them under intense pressure without ever really looking vulnerable in defence.
We also saw that while they fell agonisingly short, every player was able to step up to the plate on such a big occasion. Alexis was perhaps one of the few who struggled at times and he is taking quite some flack on social media.
But while his passing was particularly awful in the first half as it had been against West Ham on Saturday, he stepped up his game in the second and was instrumental in winning some dangerous free kicks around the box.
Finally, we saw a group of players who genuinely believed they could turn the tie around. It may not have come off on this occasion, but there’s a reason the great sides always talk about the importance of a first trophy and the belief it brings.
The FA Cup victory last year and the levels of performance that we have turned in on occasion this season have given the squad a level of belief that means even if we fell short in this game, we can be optimistic about what the future holds.
We may not be in the hat for the next round, but we’ve seen the potential of this Arsenal side. With this new, less forgiving mindset, a stronger belief and the quality of footballers we now enjoy, this team can kick on and do something special.
We need to improve the consistency with which we see this Arsenal side, and we need to manage situations better in games, but the trajectory is a positive one.
So when you walk into work or school, or even just when you bump into your friends and family, don’t hang your head.
Be proud of this team, and look forward to the future.
We have some yellow ribbons to prepare after all!