Monday, May 4, 2009

"Arsenal are my club; they are the only club"

The challenge has been drawn, the expectations leveled and the stage set. Win 1-nil and go to penalties at home and with a red-hot goalie. Win 2-nil and go through. Concede just 1 and you must score 3. Ready? Go.

After keeping the emotions at bay for the better part of the last week as I stumbled through the rest of my life, pretending as I did that there were actually other things that mattered, I have now hit the part of that emotional dial that reads, "Officially Excited. Get out of my way."

There are so many eventualities lining up here that it's almost impossible to focus. The squad? The venue? The meaning?

Let's rattle through a few things, shall we? Perhaps some further focus will come into play.

  • Cesc Fabregas, Arsenal captain, just turned 22 today (Monday). Here, Pires with the tackle and pass to Henry, Henry with the remarkable feed to Cesc, Cesc with one of the top moments of his early career. Cesc didn't have very much to say for himself in the first leg. My hope is that a different team approach, made possible by Van Persie's fitness, will enable him to exert his considerable influence on the match.

  • Biggest news of the day? Sure, Manchester United's Rio Ferdinand has been passed fit for the return leg of Arsenal vs. Manchester United in the Champions League semi-final and he'll no doubt be a monumental challenge for Arsenal, but the real news as I see it (and I'm sure it's the same from Gooners the world round) is the fitness of Robin Van Persie. Any time you can welcome a top striker into your side it is nothing but a massive boost. They can now come out with their preferred - my preferred - formation to attack and get the goals needed to win. Recall that Arsenal have recorded the impressive feat of not allowing a goal in the Champions League at home all year. Recall the string of clean sheets they kept through the calendar of 2009 to this point. Mmmm (yep, that's the mmm of satisfaction, folks). Recall that a clean sheet is the product of team play, organization, and in Arsenal's case, possession and the wonderful aesthetic that is their particular evolution of football. And finally, recall that United had their collective foot on Arsenal's throat for the better part of 90 minutes in the first leg at old Trafford.
  • So, that having been said, expect Arsenal to come out in a 4-4-2 with Adebayor and Van Persie up front to play some attacking football - some Arsenal football. They will keep the ball, they will move the ball, they will create opportunities for each other - for their team - and someone will grab the spotlight. Someone will put their pen to page, take the responsibility that matches of this magnitude so desperately cry out for and someone will become a legend. Although we'd all prefer the team to be tripping over each other to assert themselves in the pantheon of our future recollections, wouldn't we?
  • 4-4-2 then, right? Two ... no problem, automatic choices with Adebayor and Van Persie (there's no doubt that the Togolese (I just love saying that) plays much better alongside Van Persie and in spite of his come-and-go performances this year, you have to expect that he'll get the boots on for the biggest match of his career). Four in the middle ... again, not really much of a choice. They have slotted themselves in at this point - Nasri, Cesc, Song, Theo. It must be that and when you look at those four names (lightweights really) you must consider the two playing on top and just how quick (not fast, save for the case of Walcott) and dangerous they can be on the attack. It was the main deficiency in the first leg last week and the reason Arsenal chipped long balls over the center of the park with such a poor success rate. Beyond that, in the back it's anyone's guess and far from first choice. My assumption? Silvestre (should Gibbs be out), Toure, Djourou and Sagna. Hopefully they'll provide more cover for Almunia, who has been brilliant.
  • Young, yet ready as they may be, the team can accurately be described as 'youth without youth.' They are painfully young across the pitch but, and it's something that Arsene has said a number of times, they have indeed played together in big matches.
  • Arsene Wenger has promised a match of particular magnificence. My he's been up for it lately, hasn't he? Day after day he has trotted out some fantastically driving quotes. There's no mistake he wants this trophy and would it be any better than to reach the final by triumphing over his old rival and the team who have so firmly planted their feet at the summit of the game? (at right: Arsene shows Sir Alex Jintao the way out of Europe, if you look closely you can see him mutter that golden and all too descriptive line, "get f$%^#d!") Some choice lines here from Arsene regarding his position as manager of Arsenal as well as in this round-up piece from his press conference. It's when Arsene begins talking about the team as opposed to a collection of individuals (looking at you Chelsea) that the blood really gets pumping.
Eh, that's enough randomly disconnected babble for now, isn't it? We just need to sit back, hold our breath and watch it unfold. Again, time zones and all that. My personal blackout witll begin around 1:00 p.m. Tuesday afternoon as I race through the day until the time I can settle in front of the television at home and what will either end up as a glorious triumph that'll have me running around the neighborhood singing (as the squares look on and wonder what the hell I've gotten in to) or will end in painful acceptance and a cocked-up reality check that starts casting an eye over next season.

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