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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Arsenal reach first Champs League final… it's great to write those words!

The picture at the top left hand side of this site shows Dennis Bergkamp celebrating a last minute winner against FC Thun in Arsenal's first Champs League game of this 2005-2006 season. Some seven months later, and Arsenal are still celebrating in this competition as tonight we reached our first ever Champs League final. Paris here we come!

Arsenal played an almost 'total defence' game to secure a nil-nil scoreline away at Villarreal, and progress to the final 1-0 on aggregate. Gilberto - again!- was immense in the midfield protector role shadowing the Villarreal ultra-playmaker Riquelme. Gael Clichy made his first appearance in the first team after half a year out injured and showed fantastic character replacing the injured Mathieu Flamini. Sol and Kolo were back together and did a fine job in the centre of defence. And, again in this tournament, the rest of the team - including our excellent Captain Henry - put in a committed defensive effort to support Gilberto and his back four.

But the man of the moment is Arsenal's ever-controversial goalkeeper, Jens Lehmann. Not only did he keep his tenth successive clean sheet in the competition- but in the decisive moment of the match he dived to his left and saved an 88th minute Riquelme penalty. The Russian official who gave the penalty would have gone down in infamy if the penalty had been converted because Jose Mari made a complete meal of Clichy's aerial challenge in the box. Fortunately, I don't need to dwell badly on the ref's decision because of the German number one's crucial save.

As an Arsenal supporter I want to reserve my biggest plaudits to Arsene Wenger. Maybe I'm biased, but for me he has long been deserving of taking a team to the field in a Champs League final because of both his domestic success and a fantastic coaching philosophy of seeking to achieve total football. And now, on May 17th in Paris, he will finally fulfil this feat.

Well done Arsene, and well done the Gunners! And here's hoping (and it would be unbelievably great if this happened) for another last minute winner from the Dutch master in three weeks time!

19 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

It’s a sad day 4 football 2 see Arsenal go 2 the final without having a single shot on goal in the 2nd leg againts V.Real.
The ball just didn’t wanna cross the line even with a last min penalty wasted by Riquelme.

I'm sure the English press will call it 'a marvellous defensive performance', whereas if it was a spanish or italian had done the same, they'd call it a robbery

Like a friend of mine said..

I don't want them to win this year's CL simply because I couldn't stand the endless barrage of English press who will praise their 'miracles' (in whatever conditions they win, in whatever scoreline, the English press will call it a miracle).

Can you imagine the cheesy banters in London if Arsenal win CL?
- the best parting gift for Highburry
- the Professor (Wenger) deliver the goods
- the Gunners torpedoes Europe
- the French conquerors (reference to Paris and the French players/coach)

And the start of the season will be highlighted with the likes of:
- will he stay (reference to Henry's decision of staying or going)
- the start of a new era (new stadium and young players)

Lastly, it will definitely be used by over excited press to dramatically increase England's chance of winning the WC. Before Spain 82 WC, English clubs have dominated the Champions Cup with Nottingham Forest, Liverpool and Aston Villa taking turns in winning 6 Champions Cup tittles. Three Lions result? Not even passed the group stage, the only thing memorable is Bryan Robson's fastest goal in WC history vs France (before Hakan Sukur's vs Korea in last WC).

4/26/2006 1:33 am

 
Blogger Al's Money Shot said...

that, my negative, most probably spurs or northern friend, is the kind of thing that shall be written on the 18th of May. At least you are accepting it.

Get a life, you must be one bitter SOB to come on here so late and have a go? has your blow up doll burst?

4/26/2006 3:11 am

 
Blogger sainathkm said...

Congratulations to the Gunners!

4/26/2006 5:29 am

 
Blogger T said...

Thanks Al and Sainathkm.

Oh boy, at least anon has got his lack of goodwill off his chest.

Want to say thanks to my EFT colleagues who have been backing the Gunners to make the final. Thanx guys!

4/26/2006 8:59 am

 
Blogger RedsMan said...

Well, tremendous really doesn't sum it up about Arsenal last night. It wasn't pretty and Villarreal had a number of opportunities to pull the needed goal back but as Wenegr said himself, Arsenal needed that luck and got it. Riquelme for me didn't seem confident when the camera panned to a close-up of him, as if he has over the two games failed to excel to the level of playability he is renowned for. As T stated, Gilberto kept on him like a shadow, he for me was Arsenal's outfield player. Lehmann was, once again, in command and while he may be occasionally controversial, the important thing is he is in command of his box. In the first half he gathered a dangerous ball comfortably and then immediately yelled at Toure, and it was the kind of goalkeeping that shows the skill is not limited to handling and positioning. I've said before that Jerzy Dudek doesn't do this why he has dropped in the pecking order. A goalkeeper maps out his box and ensures his players are well placed in protecting his goal, yells when he comes to gather, and ensures he gathers. I believe this is more to do with Arsenal's impressive clean sheets in Europe this season.

But back to Riquelme, he took the penalty and couldn't even react to the rebound, how that must have shocked the home crowd, for it was a clear cut chance in the dying moments to get back into the game. As for the decision, I've seen those given outfield, Glichy was at best clumsy in his haste for the ball, and whether one believes Jose Mari made a meal of it or not, you must not make such contact in the box, for it then can turn into a minefield. Fortunately Lehmann showed more of the form that has ousted veteran Oliver Kahn from the no.1 slot for Germany for the WC. It's been a real turn around for the keeper, who was criticised and seen as a weak link, potentially to be replaced, aimed to stand firm and fight for his place, may have issued choice words about his selection at Highbury, and has now impressed both club and country.

It is ironic how Arsenal have had fantastic league positions to earn the right to be in the competition yet only managed the QF, but now are fighting in the league for a Champions League place, which is still touch-and-go, and are 90mins away from becoming European champions, just like Liverpool were last season. There are a number of media sources who are getting behind the Gunners all the way, which is more than what Liverpool received, because now there is a belief that English football (albeit with foreign interests) can emerge from behind that of Spain, Italy and France and Germany.

As for Anon (12.33AM), I understand his comments. We are an opinionated bunch at EFT, and that is his opinion. While it is against Arsenal's possible emergence as champions in Paris in May, it is his opinon and we should respect that. Remember when a number of comments to my article, regarding the fiasco over Everton's 4th place and Liverpool as European Champions, were against Liverpool winning the trophy? Well, I respected their opinion and simply stated my dissenting reply. Consider that not all may be behind Arsenal to win, but importantly, for Arsenal, and for English football, they are there, where they have strived to be.

So Arsene Wenger and the players must be celebrating quietly, not getting carried away but savouring the moment in itself in reaching the final. Barcelona v AC Milan is a final in itself at the mere mention of the two together, so for one to emerge tonight as the other finalist is a mouthwatering prospect for Arsenal to ponder over. I anticipate a 2-1 for Barca, and before it is mentioned again, I am not an Arsenal fan in disguise, I'm a supporter of football, particularly of English football.

T, do you still hold the belief that the top two teams in England should be the only ones to challenge in the competition?


RedsMan.

4/26/2006 10:42 am

 
Anonymous Nturtle said...

Thanks for your comments everyone. Personally, I couldn't believe how we sort of did a FA cup thing...and defended with 10 men.

I'm NOt proud of it, and on the night, the best team did not win...but I am still a fan, and the final will be very different. Maybe Wenger has some other plans up his sleeve according to who we play...maybe a 4-4-2 instead of our vaunted defensive 4-2-3-1 (what a record!).

I'm proud to BE a Gunner as it still a fantastic achievement to reach the final. Hopefully we can do our best and join those illustrious clubs that have done everything and no matter what, Wenger has to take SOME credit for the result, even though luck was our best defense in many cases. 49 unbeaten...and the Champions League record....not too bad for an Attacking Team!

For individuals, it is harsh to suggest that Clichy was clumsy...he could hardly avoid a Mari who went down so easily, no matter how clumsy the challenge. I felt for a guy who's been out for so long...he was brave..industrious...and forged ahead a bit...unlike the rest of the team. Hleb did the same...but nobody else did.

My biggest criticism was naievety of not actually retaining possesion at times...and not managing to string together a few passes....utter rubbish play.

However, it's "going to be different" in the next 90 minutes says Wenger...and we'll never win if we don't play our normal game....so I hope for the best!

4/26/2006 11:37 am

 
Blogger T said...

Thanks Redmman and Nturtle.

The occasion, the subtle psychology of being a goal up, the physical and mental strain of often playing two matches a week and practically all being must win games in the last couple months.... these are all elements that came into play last night. The collective focus was on defence to such an extent that it is almost like we forgot to move up the gears and impose our will on the real Villa. I find it understandable- as long as our developing team realises that we shouldn't relapse into the same pattern come the final.

This and we must not underestimate Villarreal's football on the night. It was sharp, full of good movement, and they pressed very hard to close down Arsenal's passing attempts. They showed they didn't finish third in la liga last season- nor progress to the semi's this season, by being an average side.

With a ten days break leading into the final we will be much fresher and I would expect greater fluency as seen in the Madrid and Juventus ties. That, and Wenger must learn from the FA Cup final last year that we must not play Jose Reyes on the right wing nor Bergkamp as the sole target-man up front!

Finally, Redsman, (and I sense mischief in that question! :))I do maintain this position because the effect it has had on the UEFA Cup has been very negative. But the powerful clubs and their associations will never accept a cut-back so its kind of a moot point.

4/26/2006 1:56 pm

 
Blogger RedsMan said...

Nturtle, commented noted, though I advocate for defenders to tread carefully when challenging in the box, which actually goes to anyone defending in the box, particularly in when playing in Europe.

Let me add that I listened briefly to TalkSport's coverage of the match and I'm not so much a fan of Adrian Durham, after he lambasted Liverpool's chances last season early on in the campaign. Mr Durham considered that Arsenal had to be wondering about their locale, having to play a CL semi-final in La Madrigal, a small town base compared to the likes of other places played at in other CL semi-finals. It doesn't matter where the game is held, the players go there to win and stay focused, would have thought a correspondent/presenter like Mr Durham would appreciate that.

T, mischievous me indeed! But answered majestically. My take is I am happy for the top four to compete. some may argue that the difference between the top four here is too vast to warrant them all participating but if UEFA are content with this, its fine with me.


RedsMan.

4/26/2006 10:26 pm

 
Blogger Skippy said...

Well done Arsenal, they have been solid this year. And I am really looking forward to the final, it will be a great game.

4/26/2006 11:34 pm

 
Blogger BlindJak said...

Just wanted to add my belated congratulations on Arsenals qualification. Although the impish side of me has gone off in a huff the more lucid side reckons it’s good to see another Premiership team in the final.

Unfortunately I did not get to see the game as I was at work related event. But understand that Arsenal mainly defended their one nil lead and some of the criticisms on here seem to confirm that. So what? Football isn’t about all out attack (As Real have proved) and there is an art to defending well that should be appreciated as much as attack and flair are.

And all teams have done it. Barca in the second leg against Chelsea were quite negative and attacks only sporadic. And they are arguably the best attacking team in Europe at the moment. So it’s playing the right game for the right moment. Would arsenal have been better off pushing for a second (or third) goal and conceding?

I remember, with horror, Chelsea being at 1-1 away to Monaco in the first leg of the CL semi a couple of seasons ago when Monaco went down to 10 men. A 1-1 result would have been good but Raniei got greedy, made attacking substitutions that unbalanced the team and we ended up losing 3-1.

4/27/2006 9:07 am

 
Blogger RedsMan said...

I know a number of Chelsea fans relate to that particular match as one card from the deck that attributed to Ranieri's departure. There's that discretion managers have to choose, do they employ attackers to inject flair into their game and not be labelled 'defensive' or possibly 'boring', or does a manager instruct his side not to push for an attack so often, because they enjoy the lead, if he feels the opposition do not have enough quality to push his side back.

But I have said before, particularly about Chelsea, that results count, and in this world it doesn't matter how. Many will harp on about how a side is defensive, boring, no flair in attack, susceptible, yet if they earn a win every game, the fans and manager wouldn't be moaning. Yes, it would be nice to earn a 2 goal cushion or more, but if you said to me Liverpool will play excellent football but only win their games 1-0 mainly through defending away the opposition, fair enough. The win counts.

Villarreal made chances to get into the box and were thwarted, one way or another, and at the end of the day they forfeited the right to be Champions League finalists. Certainly the Arsenal and Barcelona fans are not complaining. I'm looking forward to munchies and pop and 13th May.


RedsMan.

4/27/2006 10:31 am

 
Blogger BlindJak said...

You’re right that the win counts. I remember carping on about how Ranieri (I was never a fan of his) played to negative a game and his football bored me. Yet Jose is probably more defensive, but bring me a couple of league titles and I’ll handle the less than exciting play!

4/27/2006 12:15 pm

 
Blogger T said...

Thanks BlindJak and the Skipper for your congrats!

BJ and Redsman, I very much sympathise with your appraoch. As a Gunner I grew up watching George Graham football and taking on the chin the argument that we were a boring team. I didn't mind because I loved watching my team win cups with a more or less defensive and physical approach.

For me, the argument about my team being boring was a problem for others, not for me as long as we were winning which I took much joy from.

That said, to win in style is the ultimate as a fan... and that's why although I'll always have great gratitude for George Graham, my esteem for Arsene Wenger is on a level that I doubt will ever be emulated by any future AFC manager!

4/27/2006 1:32 pm

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Once again, Arsene Wenger has gone against his words and so called "principles". He used to label ANY team that played against Arsenal to either score 1 goal and then totally defend their lead, OR just sit back and defend to get the results as playing unattractive football. Arsenal, according to him played the most brilliant, attractive and classy football a team can play. So, to for them NOT to have a single shot on goal against Villareal in the 2nd leg of the CL, as ussual went against his so called ethical and principles.

Its no suprise, as ussual for Wenger to only choose according to circumstances what is good and what is bad, depending which side his team is. Last year, Liverpool won the CL but finished 5th, he claimed the CL is "just like winning another cup" just because his team had failed all the while then to pass the quarters. This year, suprisingly its a different story alltogether when they seem to be targeting the CL (for very obvious reasons) but seem to be out of the top 4 in the domestic league.

Then, you have his "fair play comments" and labbeling Martin Jol a LIAR when Jol didn't ask his team to stop when quite obviously 2 of the opposing players collided into each other and Spurs players were not the cause of that situation. Of course Wenger has forgoten, quite conviniently that his team had in the past used that to their advantage many times in the past as well.

Of course I could go on, but its a waste of time as most of you already know what a double minded person Wenger can be, and because of that I don't quite fancy him. He may be a good manager that has brought nurtured a good team but he has also brought down other teams with his stupid comments at times.

For this, I as many others will be hoping Barcelona win this because not only do they play good attractive and positive football, but they also are gracious enough not to ridicule other teams and managers when results don't go in their favour.

P.S - The only highlight in the Arsenal v. Vilareal game was that guy shoving a Barcelona shirt to Thiery Henry, haha! At least it avoided me falling asleep in the beginning of the game.

4/28/2006 3:13 pm

 
Blogger RedsMan said...

Deos anyone else agree with Anon (3.13PM) that Arsene Wenger has shown double standards? Criticised the CL as "just like winning another cup" and now considers his side fortunate to have earned the privilege to be in the finals? Perhaps T or Nturtle could comment in return?


RedsMan.

4/28/2006 6:50 pm

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I got to agree with what 'Anon (3.13 pm)' has said about Mr. Arsene Wenger. Have a look at "www.kopblog.com" which disscusses a bit on Arsenal's progress to the finals (though its not the main story). I don’t say that out of any sense of bitterness or rivalry, its just that I prefer Barcelona. I certainly wouldn’t be as ungracious to them as their manager was to us when we won it and he compared our victory to a lower division side having a good run in the FA Cup.
Anyway Redsman, you're either being very diplomatic or just being sarcastic about what that Anon had mentioned and probably trying to rile up T and Nturtle?:)

You got to remember, prior to Mourinho coming to England, Wenger used to be in the headlines quite often having his feuds with Ferguson and more often than not, being the "spokesman" for everything concerning football.

However, as mentioned by Anon, he doesn't really practice what he preaches. The incident on Spurs manager, Martin Jol for example, he went to the extent to actually call Jol a LIAR when Jol claimed he didn't see "that" incident! I think that went too far, especially for a manager which has had "impaired vission" for the past 10 years or so, especially when instances like Patrick Viera getting Red cards or a more recent incident of Pires diving but he claimed he "didnt see it". Video's have shown him standing just by the touchline and it was quite impossible for him to miss everything whenever Arsenal were on the guilty side of things. However, when someone does do something wrong against Arsenal (which Arsenal would have done similar tactics in prior games), he's ussually the first to spot it on and you would see him running to the 4th official and making a scene everytime. His more recent antics of course which is like an old tape recorder playing whenever they meet Bolton especially is.."they always try to play PHYSICAL against Arsenal.."I really find it amusing considering he had no objection when he had some players with physical presence felt like Viera, Keown and a few others which of course are not in the current squad anymore.

Theres some sayings around the world, like "do not throw stones in a glass house" or "the pot calling the kettle black".. if Arsene is going to criticise others, he should also be able to follow his principles a 100% (no matter what the odds are) or just keep quiet and not go around complaining, whinning, insulting and making a circus out of incidents when he also does the same. Remember, when you point a finger at someone, there are 4 other fingers pointing back at you.

I know some may disagree stating he's been an excellent manager in building a good team that has won honours since the late90s/early2000s, and like them, I could not agree more. However, what I cannot agree on is the way he carries himself to make him look "more holier than the rest and my team is the best and most innocent around" when its not always so.

4/28/2006 8:05 pm

 
Blogger RedsMan said...

Thank you Anon (8.05PM). No, no intention to rile anyone, particularly my honourable colleague T and equally respected nturtle. T and nturtle are two Gooner fans out of a number who have depicted passion for Arsenal on EFT and they are better positioned to speak than myself in regard to comments like those mentioned above. As far as I'm concerned, while certain issues may have occurred in the past, Arsenal are in the final of the European Cup and I have been behind them as a neutral in the name of English football and in respect for the Arsenal fans. Of course some will disagree with me but there you are.


RedsMan.

4/29/2006 10:02 am

 
Anonymous Bayo said...

Redsman, I can understand your desire to see Arsenal win, which is something that I share as well. In fact friends of mine who are Spurs fans have accused me of being a closet Arsenal fan. As a Liverpool fan, I will always acknowledge Wenger as a great manager and he should be respected as such.

However, I also agree with Anon's view as well. I remember Wenger's rather disparaging comments about Liverpool's success in last season's CL. He ranted about how the PL was the priority and then likened Liverpool's success to Millwall getting to the FA Cup final. I was very surprised and disappointed by that comment. Isn't it ironic that Arsenal are now in the same situation in which Liverpool found themselves last season.

Friends of mine who are Arsenal fans were equally disappointed by those comments. It will be quite interesting to hear Wenger's response, should a journalist ask him about those comments. Furthermore, it will be interesting to know what Arsenal fans think of Wenger's comments when he called Jol a liar. I found it quite ironic as well, considering that Wenger has the copyright for the words "I didn't see it."

All that aside, I wish Arsenal well in Paris. They've done very well to reach the final, so go for it gooners.

4/29/2006 2:03 pm

 
Blogger RedsMan said...

[Soccernet.com, your comment has been moved to another article where it is more appropriate.]

Has no one considered the irony between last year Liverpool and this year Arsenal? Liverpool lost Michael Owen, a prominent figure at Anfield, and it was considered we would suffer as a result. Owen left to pursue honours elsewhere, failed in obtaining any with Real Madrid, while Liverpool won in Istanbul.

Arsenal lost Patrick Vieira, a prominent figure at Highbury, because the club felt it was needy to sell him then. Vieira felt he could achieve better elsewhere and signed for Juventus. So far Juve are on to win the title again, while Arsenal have emerged into the bigger arena of the Champions League final. It could well be an omen.


RedsMan.

5/01/2006 3:57 pm

 

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