Arsenal captain William Gallas insisted yesterday that a lack of experience, as much as a refereeing decision, contributed to his side's dramatic exit from the Champions League at Anfield, a result which means their season is all but over.
"We lacked experience," Gallas said. "You can't concede a penalty 30 seconds after equalising." At 27, Kolo Touré, who was adjudged to have impeded substitute Ryan Babel's run into the box which yielded the penalty, is hardly the youngest of the side Arsène Wenger has assembled. But the way the side was distracted after Theo Walcott had waltzed through Liverpool's midfield to carve out an equaliser showed a naivety less likely in Liverpool.
Whilst few expected great things from Wenger's young side in August last year, their pace-setting in the first half of the season and their sensational win over Milan in the first knockout round had raised hopes of a memorable finish. Gallas, 30, admitted that this extra expectation made Tuesday night's defeat harder to bear. "Nobody expected much from us at the start of the season and we've overachieved, that's true," he said. "But when you get this far, it still hurts."
Gallas, like Wenger, believes that the penalty decision was harsh. "I also think the referees were extremely tough on us, both in the first leg and here. Now it will be hard to bounce back. Morale is low." But it was significant that Gallas alluded to inexperience before the controversial decision by referee Peter Frojdfeldt to penalize Touré, and Arsenal's lack of defensive resource emerged as one of the night's determining factors. Philippe Senderos, playing at centre-back because the absence of Bacary Sagna had forced Wenger to switch Touré to right back, had a torrid night against Peter Crouch and Fernando Torres. His mistakes contributed to Liverpool's first two goals.
The nature of the defeat adds momentum to suggestions that Wenger must now diversify from a policy of youth development and invest more in the transfer market. Emmanuel Adebayor, with whose indifferent displays Arsenal's faltering form has coincided of late, suggested that the fact Arsenal have come up short in the final reckoning will presage changes. "The boss will decide who is going to stay and who is going to leave the club. At the end of the season in every club there is a lot of changes," he said.
Touré attempted to put the game in the past. "When you lose a game like this, it is difficult to talk about it right away," he said. "We will get together at the training ground and talk about it. Now we have to look at the Premier League. It will be hard, but we can do something."
The Ivorian said Walcott's run should not be overlooked. "Theo's run was fantastic, with a great pass at the end," he said. "He is a good player and is improving every time. I think he is going to be one of the best players in England."