On this day Arseblog moved to a new software platform. This is the last ever hand-coded post on Arseblog. The new blog can be found at http://www.arseblog.com/WP/
See you there...
It's all gone a little bit quiet, relatively speaking, but then everyone must have just spent the last few days making travel plans. A few bits and bobs going on though.
Congratualtions to Thierry Henry who was named the Football Writers Player of the Year for the third time in his career and, as is typical with him, that is a new record. Maybe they'll let him keep the trophy. He said "It is all about the team and without my team-mates I would not have won. My hope now is that the team go on to create history of their own by becoming the first Arsenal side to win the Champions League."
Robert Pires shows he's focussed on Arsenal by telling us every day about which club is offering him a 15 year deal. If it's not Villarreal or an Italian club now it's Benfica. He says "I can confirm negotiations with Benfica. I like Benfica very much, my family are Benfica supporters and some of my family still live in Queluz'.
Maybe it's just me but he I think he should probably stop talking about other clubs at the moment. We have more important things to think about than whether or not Robert Pires deigns to sign a one year deal which has been good enough for Dennis Bergkamp.
"Early in the match, I took a blow to the knee - I heard it crunch and thought I might have to be substituted. But the pain died down, I felt better and played the full 90 minutes. Maybe because I had taken painkillers before the game for a bruised leg." - Alexander Hleb plays down fears he'll be out of action for a while. Keep chomping those mogadon, Alex!
Samuel Eto'o shows he's not worried about Barcelona signing Thierry Henry by saying he doesn't care that he'll face the man who would certainly take his place if he left Arsenal. He says "Why should I care if he’s in the final? I couldn’t care less. In fact, I couldn’t give a shit", which is about as see through as Michael Jackson's skin. He's obviously cacking himself that Henry will sign for them because he knows Henry is a far, far better player and also not a massive cunt. He also said that we were lucky to get the final because we played badly against Villarreal. Will I bother mentioning how Milan hit the post in the first leg and that they had a perfectly good goal disallowed in the second leg? If there's anyone I want to see cry on May 17th it's Samuel Eto'o. And Deco. And Oleguer. And Valdes. And van Bommell. And etc etc...
Patrick Vieira left Arsenal to win the Champions League. He must be sick now and he's been involved in a training ground bust-up with Zlatan Ibrahimovic. It's all going wrong in Turin now. Their 14 point lead has been whittled down to 3 points and the face the very real possibility of being overtaken in the league at the death on top of being knocked out of Europe. By us! Hopefully Thierry will look and realise that the grass isn't always greener on the other side.
Ashley Cole continued his comeback from injury against West Ham reserves yesterday. Nicklas Bendtner scored 2 as our lads won 3-1. There's an interesting player called Joseph O’Cearuill playing for us in the centre of defence. He was let go by Watford on the night our reserves played them at Barnet but a watching Arsene Wenger was so impressed he invited him to play for us. He's done well in two games since and may well earn himself a deal which just goes to show you football is a funny old game. Not good enough for Watford then all of a sudden you're playing alongside Ashley Cole and Theo Walcott. Good luck to him, I hope he does well.
And that's that. It'll be a quiet enough weekend as we play Sunderland on Monday but expect a few little changes around the site to keep you entertained. Or not so much entertained as interested for about 3 seconds. Till tomorrow.
So it's Barcelona in the final as the second semi in a row finished 0-0. Barcelona were lucky though, I didn't see too much wrong with Shevchenko's goal but there you go. The hype machine will go into overdrive now particularly with all the speculation surrounding Thierry Henry's future. There doesn't seem to be a day goes by without some Barcelona player talking about it. This time it's former Arsenal player Gio van Bronckhorst. It's all tremendously dull and classless by Barcelona to be honest.
They're not really my favourite fans in the world either as the overconfident cunts booked up all the flights to Paris last week. I thought I'd at least have a day to get good prices ahead of them, but no. Cheapest flight from Barcelona was around €500. 'I'll go to Madrid and fly from there' I thought! but the cunts have made the usual €50 return to Madrid triple in price. 'I know! I'll get the train!' so I rang up Renfe.
"Hello, I would like to travel from Barcelona to Paris please!"
"When would you like to travel, sir?"
"May 16th an..."
Bastards. Anyway, I now have a Bill Brysonesque voyage to Perpignan, then an overnight train to Paris and the same, more or less, going back. It'll probably be full of Barcelona fans too. There's no escape. Especially here. Which is quite normal, I suppose.
Anyway, a quick round up of the stories because I've got a headache. And yes, I know drinking beer gives you a headache next day but drinking beer makes you not care that drinking beer gives you a headache the next day.
Thierry Henry says he's proud of the team for getting to the Champions League final but that's not enough. He wants to win the thing - "I know that our supporters will always remember what we have achieved — but we are going to Paris to win the trophy."
Hurrah! Arsene Wenger says we have to be careful of Ronaldinho which is kind of like saying you shouldn't dip your mickey into a piranha tank. Chairman PHW loves Arsene though, he says "I have no idea what happens when he goes. Managers like Arsene Wenger only come around once in a lifetime. He is the best."
Football most orange vice-Chairman has urged the captain to sign the new deal. He says "We want him to stay, the fans want him to stay and we hope he will stay. If he's ambitious he should stay at Arsenal because we have got a new stadium and a young team coming through. We would like him to stay and be captain and take us on to even greater successes."
There's an injury worry over Alexander Hleb, apparently, but there's good news about Mathieuy Flamini whose hammy isn't torn just slightly pulled. Philippe Senderos also hopes to be back before the end of the season and if fit should come back in for the unconvincing Campbell.
Right, I think I need some breakfast. Till tomorrow, arseheads.
My good old Arsenal friends. Those of you who have been reading from the start will know Arseblog has been going for over 4 years now. Together we have seen some bad games. We have seen Arsenal lose 6-1 at Old Trafford, we've lost an FA Cup final in the last 10 minutes, there have been last minute equalisers, last minute goals which have cost us games, average performances, poor performances, terrible performances and fucking cunting shite performances but let me tell you this; I have never, ever enjoyed a game of football less than the one we had to endure last night. Until the last 3 minutes of course but up to that point it was pure hell.
We jsut did not perform last night. I think the fact we lost Flamini after 8 minutes on top of already losing Senderos was part of the reason as the defensive platform on which our successes had been built was gone. That said we were pretty much outplayed the whole game. They made all the chances, they put us under pressure, they could have scored at least twice, if not more than that, and we were just unable to get any kind of football together. There was just no movement when we had the ball and not enough movement when we didn't have it. It was so difficult to watch. From front to back we were dreadful, perhaps too conscious of the fact we had that one goal lead to protect but how precious was Kolo's goal last week at the end of it all?
Second half texts to knowledgable companions kept me relatively sane but it was such hard going - and most of you didn't have to listen to Ronnie Whelan as the co-commentator and the fattest man on Irish television, Trevor Welch, as the main man. Although I suppose anything is better than that cocksucker Clive Tyldsley. You'd look at the clock and it would say 74.31 and 15 minutes later you'd look and it would say 74.32. Just awful. I don't need to explain because I know you all know and you experienced the same thing.
Then the game, after about 1400 light years, gets to the final minute. Gael Clichy jumps for a header, that massive cunt Jose Mari stands still instead of jumping for the ball - very cleverly you have to say - and Clichy knocks him over. "Oh! The referee has pointed to the spot" say the TV men. I've been waiting for that cunt to fucking do us at some stage and here it is. In the last minute of normal time. I might cry.
"Oh no!", I said. It was plaintive. Imagine a young boy coming home to find his faithful dog, his best friend in the world, flattened on the road outside his house.
Mrs Blogs stood up. I thought she was going to rub the top of my head in that kind of 'Oh well, that's it now. They're going to score and there's only one team that's going to go on and win it from here' way. She didn't though.
"He's going to save it", she said.
"Gah", I replied.
"He's going to go to the left and he's going to save it", she repeated.
"Bah", I replied.
I stared blankly at the screen. Riquelme licked his lips. Jens stood there being Jens. Riquelme shot. Jens went left. He saved it. We cleared it.
"YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!", I said leaping up and down and seriously aggravating my shin splints.
"I told you!", said Mrs Blogs as she came over and gave me a hug and I got a look down her top too. What a fucking moment. If there was any doubt about whether I loved Jens more than Mrs Blogs then boobs won the day. I still love Jens though. What a fucking guy he is and I loved the way he did that 'slit your throat' gesture at number 99 Franco. Afterwards a clearly relieved Clichy said "If you ask me who my favourite player is in the world at the moment, I would say Lehmann." Not too many Arsenal fans would argue with that at the moment.
From then on there was no doubt. We actually managed to keep the ball for a little bit and then the ref, eventually, blew the final whistle. A shattered Riquelme got off the pitch as quickly as he could, more than one Villarreal player cried. I gave each one of them the finger when they come on screen, the fucking cunts. They might have played better than us but that doesn't make them not cunts and doesn't mean we shouldn't enjoy knocking them out to ensure our path to Paris is complete. From the least enjoyable 89 minutes of my life I'd suddenly really enjoyed the last three. I'm not sure that makes up for it all but football is a funny old game etc etc.
Afterwards the manager spoke about the performance and admitted we were a bit lucky. He said "We were a bit lucky tonight, but it is a fantastic achievement as this side has great character. We did not manage to play tonight; I don't know if it is physical or psychological. Even if we were not great, I am still proud of the character in the young team."
He also had praise for Jens Lehmann, saying "I thought to myself, if it is our year, Jens will save it. Maybe the strength of character of Jens was important because I knew he would not be beaten easily. There was a lot of pressure on Requellmie and he had fatigue, but Jens had determination and class, and he showed again what a great goalkeeper he has been this season."
Thierry Henry was also full of praise of the German keeper who, without question, was the Arsenal hero last night. He said "The penalty was very harsh, if that's a penalty then you'll see one every day of the week. He had an amazing game, not just the save. It was a team effort but Jens was magnificent."
To be fair he made a great save from Franco in the first half which should have been given offside, but wasn't, and was truly awesome when the defence, shorn of two key players, really needed him.
So we're off to Paris. The first ever Champions League final in the club's history and it's just amazing to think a team that nearly everybody had written off as second rate has managed to get there. Leaving last night's performance aside I am so proud of the players and delighted for the manager who all along has had faith in his team. We might have ridden our luck a bit against Villarreal but you don't get this far on luck alone. We haven't lost a game in the CL this season and we're, hopefully, 90 minutes away from becoming invincible in Europe like we were in the league two seasons ago. Does it matter who we get in the final? Not really. From my point of view the thoughts of beating Barcelona and wearing my Arsenal shirt around town for the following week is already giving me a bit of a stiffy but I'm not bothered. I also have a sneaky feeling Milan are going to go through tonight.
There's no need to go into a critique of individual performances, we all saw the game, we saw who did ok but in general we looked like a very tired team somewhat overawed by the occasion. It doesn't matter though. We're on our way. We're going to Paris. I'll leave you with the picture below, I think that says more than I ever could. I love the lads.
Well, here we are then. It's impossible to understate the importance of tonight's match. Not because of qualification for the Champions League next season but because a win, or a draw, tonight would put us into the final of this season's competition. It's the furthest we've ever come in this competition, we take a one goal lead into the second leg and we're never really going to have a better chance of getting to the final of football's premier cup competition.
Arsene Wenger named his squad yesterday and as expected Philippe Senderos is missing. He could miss three weeks with a knee ligament injury and he must be gutted having played such a massive part in getting us this far. It says a lot about how quickly things change in football that some of us are nervous about Sol Campbell coming back in his place. He hasn't played a lot of football this season and what he has played hasn't always been good. All we can hope is that he's put whatever issues he has had behind him and he performs as well as we know he can even though we haven't seen that level from him a while. The choice between him and Djourou was a ' small gamble' according to Arsene Wenger but the boss is confident Campbell can perform saying "I trust his qualities and his strengths. This is what you dream of and to be in this position. I wouldn’t dream of a better way to come back. He is physically alright and he will be OK.”
Gael Clichy is in the travelling squad of 19 and other than that there are no major surprises. Thierry Henry thinks the fact that Villarreal need a goal will suit as and Arsene Wenger expects a more attacking side than the one we saw at Highbury. I don't think they'll be that different though. There is no way they're going to come at us gung-ho and leave space behind for us to exploit with Henry's pace. Certainly not in the first half and I don't think they'll really start getting adventurous until there's about 20 minutes to go if it remains scoreless. Then they obviously have to start taking chances but the last thing they're going to do is leave themselves open to the away goal which would effectively kill the tie.
It's going to be a very similar game to the first one and what they do have on their side is the advantage of playing at home and slightly fresher legs than hours having rested almost all their first XI this weekend. They also welcome back goalkeeper Sebastian Viera who came close to signing for us this summer only for the deal to be called off at the last minute. They also have centre-half Peña back to add some experience to their defence. Apart from that there's not much else to tell you about them. We all know who the dangermen are already and we need to be extra careful around José Mari again tonight as he'll be using the baying home crowd to make his dives seem even more realistic. Again all we can hope for is that we get a strong referee.
From our point of view we need the same as we have needed since the first Madrid game. We're going to play the 4-5-1 formation again with Ljungberg back in the side ahead of Pires and José Antonio Reyes on the left. We just need to be organised, hard working and maybe we need a little more help defensively from the midfield as Campbell is a bit of a worry at the back from the point of view that he's coming into a back four he has little experience of playing with. Despite the fact an away goal will pretty much win the game for us I don't expect us to go all out either. As I said above it's going to be very cagey as both sides know how important the first goal is.
The Madrigal is a small, noisy ground but I don't think the players will be affected by that. If you can go to Madrid and Turin and get results you can go anywhere and get one. We need Cesc to pull the strings in midfield and hopefully he's recovered enough from his foot injury not just to play but to feel comfortable playing. Thierry is obviously the main danger, particularly if they do start to attack in numbers and we can hit them on the break, but it wouldn't be unfair to look for a goalscoring contribution from either Reyes or Bloody Ljungberg who need, perhaps, to convert their hard-work into something more substantial. In a tight game with the midfield likely to be packed it might just be made for the close control and pacey running of Hleb to create something.
It's going to be an exciting night and by exciting I mean nail-biting, butterflies in stomach, twitchy legtastic. It's only 9am here and I've already got a turtle's tail. To those of you going give it loads, we'll all be cheering on with you. "Red Army!"
We're 90 minutes away from the Champions League final everybody. Come on you reds!
Martin Jol said he didn't see it and Michael Carrick said he didn't know there was a player down injured. Yet anyone who saw Sky Sports yesterday will have seen Carrick stop before being urged to 'Play! Play!' by his manager on the sidelines - low quality clip here (thanks, Archie). As I said yesterday there's nothing we can do about it now but anyone who thinks our manager should apologise for calling Jol a liar needs to think again. It's little wonder AW was so upset as he obviously heard his counterpart telling his player to ignore the convention. It doesn't change anything but it explains a lot. Not much else to say, is there?
Onwards and upwards anyway as we have a trip to Spain and a Champions League semi-final to deal with tomorrow night. Arsene Wenger says there's no question of his players being more motivated to win the CL because of the situation with Sp*rs and 4th place. He says "We will not be motivated to win the Champions League because of Tottenham; we want to win the trophy because it is the trophy."
He expects Villarreal to attack more than in the first leg which is natural as they're at home and they're a goal down. It remains to be seen what changes will be enforced due to injury. The main concern is over Philippe Senderos and his knee. The obvious replacement is Sol Campbell but the boss says "I do not know whether Sol will come back for Tuesday. We will have to wait and see how he is."
For a game like this though you would imagine Campbell's experience will give him the edge over Djourou who is the only other option. Otherwise we seem to be injury free. More team news will emerge throughout the day and I'll have a full preview of what is one of the most important Arsenal games any of us will have experienced here tomorrow.
Dennis Bergkamp, who obviously won't take part tomorrow night, says he'll be a taking a complete break from football when he retires. He's not ruling out being a coach but wants to take time off firsts. It's a shame his fear of flying pretty much prevents him from becoming a manager because he's got that iciness you need. I'm sure we're all dreaming of him finishing his Arsenal career with a flourish. Fingers crossed.
Finally for today thanks to forum member Thunderbird who has provided me with some great shots of Highbury to make new top images. No doubt everybody knows you get a different top image each time you visit the site and with only 90 minutes of football left at the grand old stadium it will live on in the banners for the forseeable future.
Ok, till tomorrow then.
A contentious final North London derby at Highbury saw the points shared with a 1-1 draw. A controversial Robbie Keane goal was equalised late on by Thierry Henry but all the talk afterwards was about their goal.
It was midway through the second half when Gilberto and Emmanuel Eboue collided leaving the full back injured. Michael Carrick had the ball and the referee and the Arsenal players seemed to stop in expectation that they would pull the ball out. They didn't, Carrick gave it to Davids whose cross took a deflection of Kolo Toure to put it into the path of Keane who tapped him home.
Wenger was furious calling the goal a 'disgrace' and he almost went head to head with Jol on the touchline. Jol said he didn't see it - and how can we as Arsenal fans really complain about that one - Wenger said he was lying and when pressed about it again said "Of course they lie."
There's not much we can do about it now though, however unseemly it might be. Personally I think they should have put the ball out but then I suppose I would. The strength of the reaction from Arsene Wenger shows what he felt and Thierry Henry afterwards said that the Sp*rs players said they didn't see our players lying injured and he wanted to believe them but....
Maybe Wenger's reaction was a little bit strong but this wasn't a mid-table nothing affair. This was a massive game against our local rivals where three points was vital and they score a hugely controversial goal, whatever your opinion of it, so it's understandable tempers are going to be frayed a little bit. Some people suggest AW should apologise. I would suggest that he should only apologise if he said something he didn't think was true. If he really thinks that Jol lied about not seeing it then he's got nothing to apologise for.
Our equaliser was an excellent goal. Great work from Adebayor down the left saw him slip a ball through to Henry who finished like nobody else can. The quickest feet in the game clipped it past Robinson in the Sp*rs goal. I think 1-1 was a fair result on the balance of the game, certainly first half they created a lot more than us. So we're now left in a position where we need somebody to take points of Sp*rs and for us to win our final three games to finish 4th. Maybe Bolton can do that having come back into a bit of form with a 4-1 win yesterday. Maybe what goes around will come around for our lily-white rivals. Karma. The circle of life. They'll drop points to a handball goal by some Bolton cunt and we win all three games and finish 4th. That would be funny.
What I should probably mention is that although we 'dropped' a point yesterday it's not Robbie Keane's goal that will dictate where we finish. It was miserable away days at West Brom, Everton, Boro, Portsmouth and Blackburn and horrible nights like West Ham at home that made yesterday's three points so vital. So we can rage all we like but at the end of the day we put ourselves in this position. Which is a pain in the arse but that's just the way it is.
Amy Lawrence on Philippe Senderos - "Criticised for resembling a rabbit caught in headlights....Senderos reacted in the only way he knows how. Broad shoulders, a steady head and a big heart saw him through the tunnel and out the other side. One thing he did not do was hide."
The bad news from yesterday is that he picked up a knee injury which looks likely to put him out of Tuesday's game against Villarreal. It is a shame because the partnership he has built with Kolo Toure has been outstanding and has given us a platform on which to base our form in Europe. I suppose this means we'll see Campbell back, provided he's recovered from his broken nose, otherwise Djourou will step in.
Real Madrid have joined the 'chase' for Thierry Henry according to the People and they're willing to offer him a billion pounds a day to play for them. Arsene Wenger says "He is much more mature, much more tolerant, much more team conscious than he was and I think it was a very good thing for him to become captain. He said he would come and do it in May, we will do it in May, you have to respect that."
Villarreal warmed up for the second leg on Tuesday by resting almost their entire first team against Real Sociedad yesterday. They lost 2-0.
And that's it. Lots to talk about tomorrow and look forward to. For now it's the papers and some breakfast and a hair of the dog. G'luck.
It's been a long time since a North London derby has been so important. Of course it is always a massive game but this one has both teams playing with the same objective - 4th place in the Premiership. When we won the league at Wh*te H*rt L*ane all they wanted to do was to stop us winning the league, they didn't have anything to play for themselves. This time they sit 4 points above us having played a game more and it's a game we have to win if we want to finish in the last Champions League place.
Thierry Henry has said it is going to be 'war' and acknowledges the game is one of the most important of any season but has special significance this time around, saying "This time, the match will be even more important. Fourth place and qualification for next season's Champions League are at stake. We must win."
Arsene Wenger says "Saturday is our biggest game of the season in the Premiership. If you beat Tottenham on Saturday, you are in a very strong position. You can even afford a draw in one of the three remaining games."
Not only do we have the motivation to finish 4th, we're playing our oldest, most traditional rivals and it is the last time we'll ever play them at Highbury so like on Wednesday night we want the last ever derby to fnish with us taking the three points. Another 1-0 would do me, it's a traditional result. I know we have a Champions League semi-final 2nd leg on Tuesday but that has to be put out of everyone's mind and the focus has to be 100% on beating Sp*rs who will want the three points for exactly the same reasons as us.
What more can I say? We all know how important this game is. A win gives us the confidence and boost of energy that we need going to Spain. If we don't get the win it makes it almost impossible for us to finish 4th, unless they collapse, and it puts even more pressure on the Villarreal game. All I can say is that I hope the bad luck we've had at points earlier in the season (Drogba's misfick, van Persie's goal v Chelsea etc) is behind us and they do say these things even themselves out over the season so if we win by a fluke today nobody on our side will be complaining. What I do hope is that the players, especially the new recruits, are made aware of the significance of this game, not just because of the race for 4th place but because of who that race is against and because it's the last game against them at Highbury. With people like Bouldy and Keown on the coaching staff and experienced hands like Henry, Ljungberg and Pires in the team I'm sure they know but it's worth hoping out loud for.
Speaking of Pires, Arsene Wenger says he's not concerned that the player has an offer from Villarreal while Bob himself is well aware of how vital the next few days are. He says "What's for sure is that this is a very important week for Arsenal; the most important since I've been here. We're going to fight right to the end to get that ticket to next season's Champions League."
He also goes on to talk about how he hasn't made any decision on his future yet, how he believe Thierry is still to decide and that seeing how things have gone for Patrick Vieira this season might influence the decision he does make. Interesting. In other news Freddie Ljungberg says he's enjoying the new responsibility of looking after young players - wouldn't today be a good time for his first league goal of the season? - and Jens Lehmann reveals some of the motivation behind his 'comeback' after being dropped by Arsene Wenger.
Ok, that's it. The last ever North London derby is just a few hours away. Stakes have never been higher. Come on you reds!
Early team news ahead of tomorrow's crunch game against Sp*rs. Sol Campbell is definitely out having not yet recovered from his broken nose so I would imagine we'll see an unchanged central defence. The two left full backs are close to comebacks but with Arsene Wenger saying Ashley Cole is a good two weeks away from being fit enough to play and more stories about him being off in the summer you have to wonder if we'll ever see him in an Arsenal shirt again. However, this morning The Sun says Cole could be on the bench against Sp*rs.
I'd imagine we will see changes from Wednesday night but as of now the boss hasn't made his mind up who or what. He says “I need a little bit more time to decide that but I will do it. We want to beat Tottenham and find the best way to make it to the Final. I need to think about the best way to achieve that.”
Kolo Toure talks about the defence and how much he learned from Tony Adams and how much he is still learning from Martin Keown. He says "Martin Keown is at the training ground every day and we will talk about how the first leg went. He will tell me what I did well - and what I didn't do well!"
It must be great for Keown to be working with such young, hungry players who are willing to learn. He was not everybody's favourite (by that I mean opposition!) but he was certainly a fantastic defender and an intelligent man as well. When you have him alongside Senderos, Toure, Flamini and Eboue it must be a great help to have that experience. Obviously whatever he's doing is having an effect as we haven't conceded in 9 European games which is a fantastic achievement.
Also helping the back four with his experience is Jens Lehmann. There was an interesting moment during Wednesday's match and I think it was just after Villarreal were claiming the penalty. Jens came out to talk to Kolo and Phil and was giving them some instructions and to have him behind that defence shouting at them, telling them where to go, what to keep an eye on is vital as well. He talks here about how much he's enjoying his football and how he thinks he, and everyone else, can get a little bit better with each game. There's a nice bit in that article about him giving Eboue something to think about.
You have to question the timing of Robert Pires announcing that Villarreal want to offer him a two year deal. I know he's got a future to think about but quite honestly I don't imagine too many Arsenal fans want to hear that he's considering joining the club we're playing in the second leg of the Champions League semi-final. As well as that José Antonio Reyes is telling him he should go, saying "I’ve recommended that Robert go there. The Spanish League would suit him down to the ground. Also, the sun shines more than it does in England and he would have a great lifestyle there. So he should make the move and eat lots of paella!"
Well, that's the important thing. Paella. Good one, José. Should Pires play against Villarreal in Spain on Tuesday? I'm not sure that he should after his comments.
Finally for today thanks to Spencer for drawing my attention to these old Panini sticker albums - Arsenal 1984 and 1985. I think I'd stopped collecting by 1984 but I remember a few years previously having a massive collection and trying to swap in the playground. "Got it, got it, got it, got it, got it, got it, got it, need it. I'll swap you Irvin Gernon and Peter Davenport for Steve Gatting. Come oooon. Ok, I'll throw in Steve Lynex too"
Ahhhh, memories. Ok then, till tomorrow.
A 1-0 win puts us in a good position going into next week's second leg against Villarreal. Maybe there was the hope that we could finish things tonight but we came up against a well disciplined, highly professional team who have plenty of experience and never allowed us to play the kind of football which could really hurt them. Listening to the Sky commentators during and after the game you'd swear we'd just lost 1-0 to Halifax Town. Fucking wankers.
Our goal came just a few minutes before half time. We had a corner on our left, it was cleared and it came back to Thierry Henry who played a sweet ball into Hleb and his excellent left foot cross was nudged home by Kolo Toure. How vital that goal could be.
We got a bit lucky just after that when Kolo completely missed his header on the edge of the box the ball fell to Jose Mari and Gilberto's lunge looked like a penalty - the only thing I'll say is that the replay they show from the ref's point of view shows the ball going the way it would have if Gilberto had got a touch on it. That could well turn out to be a massive decision as conceding an away goal would have made next week's game much more difficult.
The other thing the ref might have considered is that it was Jose Mari who went down. I mentioned him here on Tuesday, saying "He is very light on his feet and by that I mean he's a diving cunt. Our centre-halves should be warned. He'll go down quicker than Paris Hilton."
I think you all know what I mean now. He was shameless and that might just have played a part in the ref's decision not to give the penalty. I have to mention the ref because I thought for the most part he did really well and didn't fall for their antics although I lost count of how many last warnings their left back got and he didn't get a card all night. Can't say the same for the linesmen though as Henry had a good goal disallowed for offside in the first half and he was nowhere near off, and in the second half a Pires rebound was slotted home when the other linesman gave another generous offside to the Spaniards. But that's continental football for you, they fall over, they break up play, they don't allow you to get into your rhythm and Villarreal did that very well last night. Dispruptive without ever being really threatening.
There weren't really clear cut chances in the second half, if Eboue's final ball had been better on a number of occassions we might have threatened and right near the end an Henry header from a van Persie free kick looked to be landing at Bergkamp's feet but for some last gasp defending.
Overall I'm happy with the win. Of course I would have liked a second goal but we weren't playing mugs last night. They're not in the semi-finals of the Champions League for nothing and they do not concede a lot of goals anyway. The important thing tonight was to win because it means in Spain they have to come looking for a goal which allows us to play on the break and a goal at the Madrigal will make life extremely difficult for them. As well as them not allowing us to play - and their playacting seemed to really get AW's goat in the second half, he was fuming on the sidelines - you just felt there was a touch of nervousness about our performance. When the boss threw on Bergkamp and van Persie it was a signal that he wanted the second goal but we didn't really commit men forward. Perhaps that was just sensible. Imagine a Dynamo Kiev style goal in the last couple of minutes for them? Yeah, horrible, so we have to praise the maturity of the team and their confidence that a one goal lead is enough to take to Spain.
I'm not going to get into too many individual performances but it was great to see Kolo score. He deserves it for the sheer effort he puts in and you can see he's almost running on empty at the moment. Senderos was really good again, the back 4 in general did their job well as we came through with another clean sheet and Hleb impressed but as I said they just didn't let us play so some credit to them for stifling us despite the fact they're diving cunts.
Afterwards Thierry was happy enough - "It's a big result because we didn't concede a goal", Kolo was his usual ebullient self after the game, saying "They are a really good side and we did really well tonight and I think the next one is really difficult. I'm really pleased with that goal and we deserved to win", while Arsene Wenger said "I believe it is a good result but we will know after the second game. We wanted to score a second goal. Sometimes I felt we were too nervous and wanted to protect a clean sheet."
Bottom line is this - we won the game, we've kept up our great defensive record, they have to come at us in Spain, we've got the pace to hurt them when they do, they don't concede many but they don't score many either and an away goal for us would mean they'd have to score three. We're none of us over the moon but then we all realise the job is just half done and there's another big game to come. With the boss promising to attack in Spain it makes for a mouth-watering, if slightly nerve-wracking, second leg.
With Blackburn losing last night it really means the race for 4th place is down to us and Sp*rs which makes Highbury's last ever North London derby so important on Saturday. The boss has already said he'll be 'rotating' after tonight's efforts but previews of that can wait until tomorrow. For now let's enjoy the win over Villarreal - a 1-0 to see off our favourite stadium! - make sure we know it's job only 50% done and concentrate 100% on Saturday's game.
Oh, and the squirrel was my man of the match.
So tonight's the night. The final ever European game at Highbury and Arsenal's first ever Champions League/European Cup semi-final. A fitting game for the grand old stadium to bow out of Europe. The good news is that Cesc is fit and will start tonight's game. His sore foot has recovered sufficiently for him to take his place in what is likely to be a five man midfield.
Arsene Wenger has spoken about it being the final European game at Highbury. He said "I feel part of my soul is in the stadium because many of the biggest moments of my sports career have been there. It will something special because his stadium has a special soul and to lose it one day will be sad. But I think it will help tomorrow because it is a special occasion for us and we want to be proud of that."
The captain as well had words for the ground he has scored so many goals on and one tonight would bring up his 50 in Europe. He said "I've got so many memories, it's difficult not to talk about it. You see my record, my goalscoring record, I scored a lot of goals at Highbury and there is something special about it. I have scored some great goals there, some great memories and it's just something special when you play there."
The main talking point of the press conference though was when Henry was asked if he felt he owed the Arsenal fans a decision about his future. This did not go down well and prompted a frustrated response from the captain. He said "Who do I owe, and for what? Don't you see my commitment on the pitch? I think you can see it. I'm a human being like you are and need time to take my decision, that's all. I don't think about the word owe. I owe something to my Dad, yes, who put me on this planet. We are here talking about the semi-final and we are here to talk about a great opportunity for the club. I think sometimes it's a bit of a shame that people single me out and try to speak about other stuff."
And I have to say I agree with him. As much as we might not like it he has said consistently that he will make his decision when he's ready and in recent weeks has confirmed he will do so before the World Cup starts so we have a definite timeline on it. The journalist yesterday was mischief making. It's the eve of our very first Champions League semi-final and the focus should be on the team not on the captain about whose situation we know enough already and no amount of prompting from some witless hack is going to change that. I understand his frustration and he later released a further statement to ensure his words weren't misinterpreted.
He wanted to talk about the team and about the game tomorrow. The journalist wanted to cause some shit and fair play to him, he provoked a response which is exactly what he was looking for. It's all just bollocks but I don't think it will do anything other than ensure that Henry is 100% up for tonight's game. Anyway, what we should be talking about is the game and that's what we'll do. I'm sure you're all clever enough to see the journalist's question and Henry's reponse in the right context.
So what do we need to do tonight? As the boss has said there are no plans to man-mark Riquelme but I would imagine that Gilberto won't be too far away from him all night, denying him the space he needs to make the passes that have been so dangerous. On the right hand side Eboue and Hleb will have their hands full with Sorin who never stops running and although they've nullified Robinho, Zidane and Nedved this is going to be a big test. On the right we need discipline from Robert Pires if he plays as Reyes has provided good cover for Flamini and up front we have Henry being fed by Cesc and probably Hleb. If we make chances tonight we need to take them.
Of course we need to be defensively strong as well and the manager has been full of praise for the back four saying they can become as good as the legendary back four we had for so long. He singled out Kolo Toure for his contribution and for stepping up and becoming the leader in absence of anyone more senior. He is a massive presence in the squad, greatly respected by all his team-mates and alongside Senderos has been the rock on which our defence has been built. He has looked tired in recent games but he has such drive and passion I don't think we'll see any of that tonight. Hopefully the 4 of them, plus Jens, can remain as tight as a camel's arse in a sandstorm.
Overall we just need to play our football, forget that this time we might be considered the favourites and go at it with all the concentration and committment that we did in previous rounds. If we do that then we've got a great chance. As I said yesterday don't read too much into the players that they're missing, they still have enough quality to hurt us if we give them the chance.
Ok, fingers crossed the last ever European night at Highbury is one to remember. I'm off to get the beers in. In fact I might have one for breakfast. Come on you reds!
A great result at White Hart Lane yesterday really gives us something to play for this Saturday but for now we'll leave that aside as we have to concentrate on our game against Villarreal tomorrow.
Thierry Henry, like everyone else, is not underestimating the Spaniards and he thinks we've got to go at them 'Premiership style'. He says "We need to do it like we do it in the Premier League - that is one thing which did surprise Juve. They are not used to a team having a go at them all the time, going behind their defence, or putting a high pace into the game."
There's no question the game in Spain, despite being more technical, is much more sedate so quick passing and lots of running could certainly cause them problems. I would imagine we'll go again with the 4-5-1 formation which will allow Gilberto to sit in front of the back four and close down Riquelme who is the man who pulls the strings for them. He's not all they've got though. Forlan can score goals, Tacchindardi is vastly experienced, Sorín is a fine player despite being a massive cunt and striker José Mari is no slouch but keep an eye on him. He is very light on his feet and by that I mean he's a diving cunt. Our centre-halves should be warned. He'll go down quicker than Paris Hilton. They look likely to be without their two first choice centre-halves but I wouldn't read too much into that as we have all seen what a 'makeshift' defence can do this season. They have two very solid full backs, Marcos Senna in midfield who was born Brazilian but will go to the World Cup with Spain and is reminiscient of Vieira in the way he plays and overall they are a team not to be underestimated. I've seen them take Barcelona apart at their ground so it's vital we keep it tight and go into the game with the same focus and energy that we did against Madrid and Juventus.
From our point of view with Reyes suspended you have to think Pires will play left unless the boss chooses van Persie to play there. Freddie Ljungberg is likely to be back we'll see him alongside Hleb, Gilberto and Cesc who made no mention of his injury in the Spanish press yesterday and spoke as if it was a certainty that he'd play. I like Diaby even though he's very raw but there's no question Cesc in the middle can do far more for us than the young Frenchman. Fingers crossed he's ready for tomorrow night.
I suppose we'll get more info on the likely teams as the day goes by and the press conferences take place. In a quick round-up Villarreal defender Gonzalo Rodriguez, who misses the game, says Thierry Henry is playing like a Barbarian at the moment. I'm sure he means JPR Williams. The Guardian has a piece on the rise of Emmanuel Eboue.
Dennis Bergkamp - "Take nothing away from the performances so far but I think Villarreal will be a bigger test than either Real Madrid or Juventus."
A big night in this town later as well as Barcelona take on AC Milan. The hype in the papers here is just unreal and the shite they spout about destiny and this being time for Barça's 'consecration' would make you a little bit sick. Should be a good game though. Right, lots to talk about, see you all tomorrow.
It's a bank holiday Monday everywhere. Hope you had a good easter and you're full with chocolate eggs. A quick look at what's going on.
Thierry Henry has hailed Dennis Bergkamp as his perfect partner - "Dennis will sometimes do things out of nowhere, and for me that is why he is the best I have played with."
Meanwhile Dennis himself is looking for a big finish to the season after his fine 20 minutes on Saturday, saying "It is nice to have come on and really been involved in the game, helping with the second goal and scoring the third. Hopefully I can have a few more good moments like that and finish in a good way."
Would there be a more fitting way for him to go out than to curl home a shot like the one against West Brom in the last minute in Paris? Not that I'm tempting fate or anything but neither is Dennis despite the fact he's already booked the Eurostar.
The race for 4th place is still well and truly on and Sp*rs take on Manchester United today. We need United to take points from them and I'm not going down the road of them doing us a favour or them deliberately not trying as hard because it's just nonsense. Both teams need the points for different reasons and I'm keeping fingers crossed United can get at least a point because then it makes Saturday's North London derby one of the most important in recent years. It's always a massive game and even though we won the league at their place a couple of seasons ago there's nearly more at stake this time around as both teams are desperate for the points. Fingers crossed (sorry, Phil!).
After today we'll know a bit more about how the weekend ahead will shape up and we can concentrate fully on Villarreal on Wednesday. We should have some injury news about Cesc as well, so tune in for that.
And that's it. Till tomorrow.
Well, three points were the order of the day yesterday and we got them but not without making life difficult for ourselves and on the back of a performance which clearly showed the players had one eye on Wednesday night.
The first half was pretty dull stuff, a seriously off-colour Thierry had the best chance but he skewed the ball wide after racing clear of the defence and with only the keeper to beat and it was jsut before half-time that we took the lead. Some neat passing in and around the area saw Alexander Hleb make just enough space for himself to crack in an excellent left foot shot. The second half had to be better you thought.
Not so, it was even worse than the first. Thierry came off after about 15 minutes to rest him before Villarreal and Adebayor came on. Nothing much happened. Then Pires came on for Hleb and to a massive roar Dennis Bergkamp came on for Robin van Persie.
Within 30 seconds West Brom were level when an unusually sloppy Emmnuel Eboue made a horrendous mistake on the edge of the box and gifted the ball to Nigel Quashie who finished smartly. "Oh bollocks", you thought.
Not to worry though, the script was written for Dennis. First he set up Robert Pires who eventually stabbed the ball into the net to put us back in front, then Eboue went some way to make amends by charging his way upfield and giving the ball to Bergkamp on the edge of the box. You just knew what he was going to do. The kind of curling shot that has been his trademark at Arsenal down the years and on 'Bergkamp Day' at Highbury it was fitting that his goal made the game and the points safe.
Afterwards the boss admitted that there was a lack of focus with the Champions League semi-final upcoming. He said "We had all a bit one eye on the game on Wednesday already. That is why I am very pleased we have got the three points and did the job in a professional way. I feel we deserved to win the game today."
In terms of chances we probably did but at 1-1 West Brom looked to have a decent penalty shout when the impressive Curtis Davies (strongly linked with a summer to us and based on his display yesterday somebody worth keeping an eye on) went down when Eboue seemed to hang out a leg. It's all academic now though and the three points were absolutely vital with Sp*rs winning at Everton.
However, we are going to have to perform a lot better against Villarreal on Wednesday but I'll talk more about them and that game during the week. For now though a quick round-up of the Sunday papers.
New boy Adebayor talks to the News of the World about how important Champions League success will be in keeping Thierry Henry, The People says we're after Sp*rs midfielder Michael Carrick as he delays talks on a new deal at Wh*te Ha*t La*e and the same paper says Barcelona will blow their entire £30m transfer budget to try and bring Thierry Henry to the Nou Camp. It's getting close to the summer, the speculation grows, transfer rumours become more ridiculous.
Ok, that's it for today. Have a very happy Easter, see you tomorrow.