By Declan Taylor
It was the “guilt and frustration” suffered in Arsenal’s Champions League Semi-Final second leg against Manchester United that made their elimination hardest to swallow, according to Arsène Wenger.
After losing the first leg 1-0 at Old Trafford, the Gunners knew they would have to be at their very best to have any chance of progression. But, having beaten the champions already in the Premier League, belief among players and fans was high.
The atmosphere in the stadium before kick-off was undoubtedly the best witnessed there since it opened in 2006 but it would be short lived. Ji-Sung Park and Cristiano Ronaldo struck in the first 11 minutes to put the visitors 3-0 up on aggregate and effectively into the Champions League Final.
On the other hand, Chelsea were within seconds of beating Barcelona in the other Semi-Final, only for Andres Iniesta to thunder home a last-gasp strike at Stamford Bridge. For Wenger, the psychological effects of the two results differ massively.
“Our players had to deal with guilt and frustration – we have not even played a game,” he said before Saturday's victory over Stoke. “That hurts even more than when you have given everything and lost the game but were unlucky. Ok, it’s disappointing but you can deal with that.
“After 10 minutes the game was over. That is why we lost. For example, we played against Chelsea three or four days later. They had a massive disappointment [against Barcelona] but still at the end of the game the guys go home and feel they have been in a game at the level people expect of them. You have no guilt.
“If you have to deal with the fact that you couldn’t turn up on the day with an expected performance when you’re so much up for it – that is difficult to deal with.
“I believe as a whole the big frustration of this team was not to be capable to play. This team since November have done very well and they’ve shown mental strength in Rome on penalties. So many young boys to take the penalties and score.
“But the frustration of this team that was most difficult to swallow was in the second leg against Man United. They were not in a position to play the game.”Copyright 2014 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 29 May 2009