There's so much to say, that any sensible paragraphing structure wouldn't work - so it's simply going to be broken down into 'points'.
Point one:Writing player ratings about last night's game is incredibly difficult. After 10 minutes United didn't need to play football. I'm not a big Walcott fan but for me something sticks out: if United had been involved in a real match he'd have got space. So the panning of Walcott is really a non-argument. Sure, he wasn't the dominant player we hoped he would be, but the one Champions League tie he can really be seen to have swung, was the Milan away match last season.
He managed that because he had space, because both teams are attacking. I'm not suggesting he needs them to be attacking like Liverpool were when we score our 4th goal; but if you're running at a defender, it's much harder to get in behind them, especially if they have time to position themselves.
Rating the Arsenal team from last night is hence a nonsense: criticising players for not making much of a performance once effectively 4-0 down - it's not a 'real' performance and it has to be perceived as such.
Point two:In some quarters we've been criticised for not throwing the kitchen sink at United. Our attacking players didn't do themselves justice etc.
But it wouldn't have helped - two early goals was basically goodbye Rome '09, hello Madrid '10.It just wasn't going to happen. The players who had spent a week psyching themselves up on the training ground weren't just deflated; they were popped, if you'll forgive the balloon analogy. To expect them to just shrug and play as if it was a normal game is ridiculous. The game which would rate whether this season is a success or a failure was gone. That's the reality.
Point three: This was strong opposition. Man United aren't Bolton. We were never going to score four against a team which knew it didn't have to make the game. And we've seen United aren't so comfortable then. When we led 2-0 at The Grove in November, United didn't look like getting a draw. So if they'd had to make the game, it might have been very difficult. As it was, a good like United new how to see it out. Fair play.
Point four:Luck played a huge part. I doubt I've ever heard a larger collective, sudden, intake of breath as Gibbs slipped. 57,000 people around the stadium sucked in their breath - hey, even Club Level seemed to utter some kind of communal noise. If Gibbs hadn't slipped, who knows how it would have gone? Whilst predicting a score is only conjecture, the facts remain these: The Grove has never had a sustained period of noise like the first 8 minutes last night and the players were responding; then against the run of play, United scored a lucky goal, which only came about because Gibbs slipped. If he hadn't, rather than bemoaning bad luck, it's not beyond the realm of possibility that we would have gone through. It happens.
Point five:I'm pleased Paul Burgess, the groundsman, is buggering off to Real Madrid. Yes, the pitch is a great surface which allows us to pass it zippily along the ground. But the almost constant watering means it's always got moisture on it. This may be why our players seem to have more unfortunate slips than many.
Point six: Whilst this isn't a piece where I want to look at Arsenal in overview - that will come after the end of the season, we do have to realise one thing. Whilst I am happy to bemoan the absence of Rosicky, Eddie, Gallas and Clichy, it's important to realise this could be expected - over the last four of five years we've consistently had injuries. More squad depth is needed. Period.
Point seven: and arguably the crucial point - the story of our season is not two semi-final defeats. It's the fact that we had a chance to get back in the title race. We amassed five draws in a row at the end of January and through February. Without those 10 points dropped, we'd have been in the title race. Despite, our defeat to Hull. Despite our further losses against Stoke, Fulham, Man City and Villa. We had a chance to reconstruct our season, and we missed it. Ultimately, teams with a good season in the League tend to replicate that in the Champions League. Us in '06 and Liverpool in '05 are the exception rather than the norm. Our poor league form has hurt us this season, not a couple of mediocre performances in big games.
Momentum is the biggest factor in deciding football matches: results do cluster together - if you think it's a myth, just look at Hull. We never got it from the League and if we had, our season might not have come a cropper. That's the bottom line. It's why last season's Champions League knockout hurt even more - because arguably, we were the best team in Europe for much of last season. We simply cannot claim that this season.
Nonetheless, none of this dims one stark fact: this defeat leaves a sour taste on many levels.
But as Rudyard Kipling said, "If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you [...] you'll be a man my son."
The cries for Wenger to give up on his youth experiment will now get louder and louder. But these players, through their experiences, are becoming men. Give them a chance.
Keep the faith,