Writing this directly after the game I am almost lost for words. Almost. This is what I don’t get paid to do so don’t worry, I have plenty to say.
Both Madrid games were awesome to watch for different reasons. From the stands at the Bernebeu I saw the potential of this team. In front of the TV for the return leg we saw not only the potential but the spirit and the heart. Tonight we saw both as we took Juventus apart, and there’s no other way to put it than that. The first 10 minutes aside, when Juventus looked mildly irritating if not dangerous, the game was all Arsenal. We were the ones who looked dangerous, the ones who looked like we wanted to score, the ones who had the desire to win the game, the ones who put 100% in our tackles and positioning and without question we were the ones who deserved to win the game.
Cesc Fabregas opened the scoring on 40 minutes and given the night that was in it it was just the perfect goal. Patrick Vieira was dispossessed by a wonderful Robert Pires tackle (I know! I know!) and he then played it to Thierry Henry who slipped it to Cesc who rolled the ball through Thuram’s legs to make it 1-0. Maybe Vieira was still on his arse when the ball went in. The symbolism couldn’t have been any more accurate if he was.
He may have ruled the Arsenal midfield once upon a time but now there’s a new master.
In the second half it was all us again. Henry had a left footed shot saved by Buffon, Hleb had a left footed daisy cutter saved as well and it was all Arsenal. When Juventus did look in any way threatening they had the back four to contend with. Kolo Toure made an amazing tackle in the box on Ibrahimovic while Senderos won everything in the air and on the ground and his first half charge forward just summed up his character and got the crowd going. The second goal had to come and it did after Pires took a quick free kick to Alexander Hleb. He played a beautiful ball to Cesc who squared it for Henry who finished with aplomb considering the ball was under his feet. 2-0 Arsenal and absolutely no less than we deserved.
After that the Italians were finished. They had nothing left, their 10 men effort against Roma weighed heavily on their legs, but more than that they lost their discipline. Vieira picked up a yellow for a kick at José which means he’ll miss the return leg, Camoronesi got a second yellow which you have to think was deliberate – and his blowing kisses at the crowd as he went off showed how much he cares about his club and enraged Capello – and Zebina got a second yellow late on as Juventus finished with 9 men. It was a shame we couldn’t score again but ask anyone before the game if they have taken a 2-0 and to a man you wouldn’t have found a dissenter.
On a player by player basis it’s almost impossible to single anyone out. Jens was quiet but that was because Juventus didn’t threaten at all. The back four have been outstanding in recent weeks. Eboue is so full of energy and that’s mirrored on the other side with Mathieu Flamini who just gives 110% all the time. In the middle I’ve said before how much I like Kolo and Phil as a partnership and again they were awesome. They won everything in the air, distributed the ball well and I know Senderos has had some critics this season but I despair of anyone that can’t see these two are the future of our defence for the next decade (I loved Phil knocking the ball out of Vieira’s hand coming back from a corner).
In midfield Hleb, Pires, Gilberto and José gave everything and didn’t shirk their defensive work while Cesc just showed again what a player he is. If you were given a choice between him and Vieira in your midfield would anyone seriously choose Paddy? He looked lost tonight. He looked like he didn’t have the legs to compete. He never got forward. He never threatened. He could hardly move at the end. The total opposite of Cesc who was creative, in the middle of everything and right to the final whistle was full of running. His smile at the end of the game made my heart glow. I love that lad and I still maintain Arsene did some good business moving on the former captain when he did. Tonight’s listless performance is typical of his season and his last season with us. It is a cliché but nobody knows the players better than AW, not even themselves. Vieira didn’t enjoy his return one little bit and while I’m glad he was shown respect before the game I have no problem with the way he was shown up during it. People have often criticised us for not being ruthless enough. Well, things have changed. I’m sure he looked at the ability and the promise of our young side and wanted to be part of it. I’m sure he saw himself playing alongside the precocious talent of Cesc. Oh well! You make your bed, Paddy… thanks to Kaids who provided this picture which pretty much sums up his night.
Up front Thierry was Thierry. Dangerous one minute, chasing down defenders the next and in European competition he has 49 goals in 99 games. More than anyone I hope he can see the potential in this side and what he can bring to it to develop it. His goal was no less than he deserved. Overall, leaving aside the various merits of the individuals, what we saw was a real Arsenal team tonight. Everyone knew their job, everyone put in the effort, nobody gave up and more and more you feel like there’s something happening with them. Maybe the Champions League is a step too far this season, maybe not, but what they’re showing is that it’s an achievable goal in the future, that we can mix it with the best teams in Europe, that we’re not star-struck or overawed and that we’ve got a core of players who, with the right investment, could create another great Arsenal side. I can’t tell you how much that performance and result means to me and I’m sure to all of you as well. Had things not gone right tonight you can be sure there would be those happy to write off Madrid as some kind of fluke. Well, not now. We just outplayed the Serie A champions elect and nobody can argue with that. I love the lads!
Afterwards Arsene Wenger said of the performance “It was everything you want” but urged caution as well, saying “We scored two goals and didn’t concede, so that was good. There’s still a lot to do, but it was a good start.”
Cesc was interviewed after the game and he showed what a mature head is on those young shoulders by saying “Now is just ‘half-time’ in the game and we’ll see what happens there. If you look at the way we played, we dominated the game. We scored two, it’s a good result, but it’s not finished yet.”
And that is true. It’s not over by any means but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t enjoy what we did last night because we should. And the players, the manager and the staff should as well. That was fun, wasn’t it?