Thursday, February 12, 2009

A long week, an international break, a blast from the past

Not much shaking this week. We sit here, keep an eye out to ensure that no one gets injured and pour over the reports from the training grounds. 

So ... how about a blast from the past? That Arsenal run through to the Champions League final a couple of years ago. Articles written for a football newsletter we used to put together for our local football pub - The Highbury Times. Part one today, starting with the draw against Juventus. Enjoy a little memory lane ...
On Tuesday, March 28, 2006, Arsenal carved another stunning chapter in their run through the Champions League with a 2-nil win over Juventus at Highbury. Here's the match as I saw it from the front row at the pub (appropriately named The Highbury) with my heart in my throat and my hands shaking.

-On kickoff as more and more Arsenal supporters marched through the door, the bartender, wearing his homemade Juve shirt uttered, "Shoulda named this place Della Alpi." To which fellow Gooner Carl described jumping out of a plane near the alpine regions of Torino.

-Soaking in the emotion one can only get even more excited for World Cup this summer. I keep asking myself, is there anything better than the Champions League? I just love its pageantry, the tension, the aggregate scoring on a home and away leg, seeing the best up against the best, knowing that there are pubs all over Europe where people are packed-in shoulder-to-shoulder to breathe in the event and try to find their own patch of glory. As I ask this question, I realize the answer is simple, the World Cup can trump the emotion, and we're a short time away.

-Approaching kickoff as the team flags are presented and the captains meet the referees we are treated to the sight of Thierry Henry and Lillian Thuram exchanging vows at the center of the pitch. Two French stars encompassing past, present and future.

-And there he is, Gianluigi Buffon, the world's most expensive goalkeeper. Complete with the most expensive hair. I imagine that the likes of Buffon and Luis Figo of Inter Milan live on cliffs, drink incredible wine, drive fast cars and wear white linen suits. They're probably high-end art thieves in the off-season.

-On 6', the passing is not up to Arsenal's standards, they are too far from the mark and too heavy on the first touch.

-A very nervy first 15 minutes as neither team is able to exert their will. The physicality of Juve looks to be a problem. 

-On 21', it's noticed that Robert Pires is switching all over the pitch and popping up in spots unusual for a man normally strapped to the wing.

-On 28', Alexander! Use your left foot! Hleb, who has been stronger of late, played himself into space but couldn't fire with his left.

-Kolo! Toure! Kolo! Toure! (sing it like Marco! Polo!) The young man is becoming a lion in central defence. He makes tackles, much as Vieira used to, that make you wary of a foul - full extension - but he pulls it off in clean fashion.

-Too many long, searching passes. Not the Arsenal style of working back to build forward and get men in front of the ball before attacking.

-On 40', and there it is! Cesc! The starlet at 18 years old goes through someone's legs and makes it 1-0 to the Arsenal! Elation! Wonder! Vieira's "replacement" is standing tall at the moment on both sides of the pitch.

-On 41' Henry serves notice that he'll get one yet.

-Cesc Fabregas is dominating, even against Vieira, the ex-Arsenal living legend.

-On 66', Buffon is doing notably well on low shots that are now coming like buckshot.

-Arsenal look like scoring soon as we approach 70'.

-On 68', there it is! Cesc feeds his captain, Henry, who rolls it down the pipe to mark a 2-0 Arsenal lead! As I leapt to scream, my voice simply wouldn't work!

-Now the goal is to not concede the away goal.

-Right back Eboue is dominating ex-Chelsea striker Adrian Mutu.

-Juve right back Zebina has his hands full with Jose Antonio Reyes.

-On 77', Arsenal are on their ascendancy, their trademark. Wenger is smiling, a welcome sight from a generally reserved man. He's smarter than the rest of us and knows it.

-On 80', shots are 14-5 in favor of Arsenal.

-Zebina body-checked Reyes, the closest he's come to defending him yet. Late tackles are, at the moment, the only way Juve can match Arsenal's skill. 

-And on the final whistle, I can note that Juve were completely plugged up in the middle with no threat to the Arsenal back four or to Lehmann in goal.

I'd love to know what Arsene Wenger did, beyond picking the squad to get Arsenal to play as they have. It's incredible really, the inexperience that is trumping such European masters as Fabio Capello and Patrick Vieira. Ibrahimovic was absent. Trezeguet, the snake, so revered by the French for his wonder goal in Euro 2000, was a non-factor with maybe two touches. Emerson looked old and the others were mismatched against an Arsenal side that has been so focused that they've performed like warriors. Senderos, who was abused early in the year, has bloomed with rugged confidence. Flamini takes his bloody determination to excel in Ashley Cole's stead. Eboue is on his first stage and making it his own. Gilberto has found a toughness that Vieira's absence demanded be filled. Cesc has made himself the envy of the world at 18. Reyes has proved too tricksey for even the savviest of tacklers. And Henry, Henry has toyed with top defenders as if they were me living out their dreams against the greats. 

For this Arsenal supporter, this campaign is a dream rolling downhill and just maybe the distant reality that has been too surreal to accept can be achieved.


Jamie said...

-Right back Eboue is dominating ex-Chelsea striker Adrian Mutu.

A spelling mistake maybe?

Colin said...

Oh man, I was so high on him at that point. I really thought he'd have potential as a right-back, and then with his pace as someone pushing forward.

Yeah. Umm, looks like that didn't happen.