Saturday, September 23, 2023

Not to be

Well, that’s that. For another year at least. As I said once before, I get to write all the good blogs! No links today either, since I just don’t have the energy to read the press. I’m sure you didn’t either, but I didn’t sleep very well last night.

Heroes – all of them. 10 men for 70 odd minutes against one of the top European sides and they did themselves justice beyond anything I can describe. Despite their favourites tag, Barca offered very little, in my view, and Thierry’s comments after the game about not seeing much of Ronaldinho, or Etoo, rang true for me. Especially Ronaldinho. *The* big game player? Obviously I’m gutted, as I’m sure you all are too, but I’ve got to say the ref had no small part in deciding the result.

Jens was rightly sent off after around 20 minutes. Assuming by “rightly” you mean you want to ruin the game and see us with backs against the wall for the next 70 minutes in the showpiece event of European football. You couldn’t argue with it really though, but I still think it was a poor decision. Ashley played Etoo onside, but in my opinion, a yellow for Jens and the goal standing would’ve been a fairer outcome than his sending off and the game ruined as a contest. Ref had blown his whistle though, so he had to stick with his decision. I feel desperately sorry for Jens, who’s been outstanding this season.

And yet still, we went on to take the lead, with Sol scoring a great header from a set-piece. Fair play to him; shame he couldn’t get a hat-trick as I’d hoped yesterday, but that was his best game in a long, long time. I think it speaks volumes for the team’s – and the club’s – character that with 10 men, against the favourites for the competition, as well as the match, we went on to take the lead.

Back to the referee. It’s going to sound like sour grapes, but his performance was a joke. There was a yellow card for Eboue, which was fair enough, but then he gave a yellow to Thierry for an excellent tackle. Van Bommel was his usual cunty self, and Marquez was allowed to get away with murder, as was Puyol. Thierry said after the game that playing against either of their centre-backs on a yellow card would’ve made for a completely different game, and he was right too. Though it was understandable, the decision for Jens’ sending off was questionable, but some of the fouls he gave for them and not for us were very odd. Thierry had some very strong comments about the ref after the game, and said “if they didn’t want us to win, they should’ve just said so from the start”.

That said, we had a couple of chances – even with 10 men – which we really should’ve converted. Thierry had a couple of one-on-ones with their keeper, and Freddie’s fantastic shot from a tight angle, might’ve/could’ve gone in on another day. We made a great start before Barcelona had the chance to settle into their game, with Thierry testing their keeper from close range, before having a long-range shot palmed away a few moments later. But after we went down to 10 men, it was always going to be backs against the wall stuff.

Having defended like foxes, with Barcelona offering little penetration despite all the posession, late on, Etoo scored a goal at the near post which might’ve been ruled offside, or saved, on another day. Then a few minutes later, Barcelona took the lead with Balleti driving into the area and his shot going in through Almunia’s legs. It was harsh, but with 10 men for 70 minutes, unsurprising. Henry was obviously absolutely shattered for much of the game, but that’s what playing up front on your own with zero protection from the referee will do for you, and it’s not like the manager had many options to try to support him after the sending off. Anyone that says Thierry didn’t contribute enough/wasn’t in the game enough is a fool, and the decision to start Pires over Reyes is irrelevant given how things turned out with the sending off. Playing a team like Barcelona is hard enough, nevermind being a man down for the vast majority of the game.

Not to make excuses though. Congratulations to Barcelona. They were favourites at the start of the tournament and they’ve scored more goals than anyone else, including us last night. They’re certainly a great team and worthy winners of the competition. However, I don’t think there was that much between the sides and it would’ve been interesting to see a real contest. I’m with Arsene Wenger, the best manager our club has ever had, when he says this team is young and can go on to do great things. A word for him: brilliant. People might criticise him for selling/not replacing Vieira this season, but he had faith in this team when few others did, and they took us to the final of the greatest club competition in the world. For all their billions, Chelsea haven’t managed that. I’m so proud for him, and for Arsenal Football Club to have him as manager.

A quick word too for Dennis Bergkamp, who didn’t get to come on last night, despite it being his last competitive game for the club. I’m sure Arseblogger will have his own tribute for Dennis, but I’d like to contribute my own while I’ve got the chance by saying Dennis has been the model professional, loyal to the hilt, and a true genius to boot. Remember *that* goal against Newcastle, *that* goal against Leverkusen, *that* hat-trick against Leicester? And the countless others, and the ones he’s set up for Wright, Anelka, Henry and Freddie – amongst others. And for Holland too – *that* goal against Argentina. An Arsenal legend of seriously historic proportions, who’ll be very, very sorely missed.

A word for Pires too, who must’ve been gutted at being the man sacrificed after the sending off. He’s been a real star for us too, and I very much hope some cunty Villarreal cunt’s comments yesterday about him signing for them aren’t true. If it is true, we’ll miss you Bobby, and many thanks for your fantastic contribution over the years; a sad way to finish if that’s how it’s to be. Arsene Wenger once described Bobby as the oil in Arsenal’s engine – he’s going to be hard to replace, despite his dip in form over the last season or so.

I don’t want to end on a downer though.

We were heroic last night, and had some seriously tough decisions go against us. According to half the media, all Barcelona had to do to win was turn up. But with 10 men and a ref seemingly determined to help Barcelona whenever he could, we really gave them something to think about, and showed the sprit this team has in bundles. I love this club, its character, and not least of all, its class. Despite the result, I’m more proud of them than ever.

Never, ever, outgunned. Fuck the naysayers, we’ll be back next year, more determined than ever.

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