If you can keep your head when all about you Are losing theirs ....
I remember last season when Jens came cost us two goals in Greece, my mate and I started a running joke about Jens. Instead of getting frustrated when he unnecessarily sprinted out of the area, or somesuch action, we just laughed it off. oh Jens we you used to say. About the only way to get through it. But, if we're all being honest, he was never that bad. He was, after all the keeper who saw us through the unbeaten season.
This year, for sheer consistency, Jens has to be player of the season. His save in the second leg against Real was the greatest save I've ever seen in my 15 years of watching football. And all his anger and rage has improved, not detrimented, our performances. Tel might be captain, but there has only been one leader at the back. The one and only Jens.
And then tonight.
The game was an odd affair. For all Wenger's bluster about us attacking Villa, the team knew we only needed a draw to see us through. So while we didn't sit back, we certainly didn't attack in the manner we had done in Turin, let alone Madrid. I think, over the entire course of the match, we had about 1 real chance - Tel's immediately after the penalty.
Most of the team looked knackered. Hleb had the most energy, and continues to look a class act, but he and Eboue just didn't seem to hit it off on the flank as they have done up to now. Giberto, for all the stick he's received earlier in the season, was awesome, and continued to be an invaluable sweeper between the midfield and defence. Freddie played ok, battling hard against a sickening amount of gamesmanship from certain Villa players. Jose was frustrating. Not for the first time he showed a great deal of effort, but with little result. Tel and Fab were also agonisingly peripheral; neither seemed able to get into the game.
And the defence was certainly not watertight. Sol looked like a player in need of games, as did Clichy when he came on. I was upset to see the Flamster - who has also been a hero since christmas this year - go off. I hope it's nothing serious.
So the game was, essentially, 90 minutes of Villa pressure, with occasional indecisive breaks from an Arsenal side fearful of unnecessarily over-extending themselves. But, and here's the key point to me, Villareal were dire. Not just tonight, but over the two legs. Villa certainly attacked us tonight, but they were not better than we were at Highbury, as the Villa manager contended. For all their build-up play they couldn't hit a barn door with a nuclear warhead. I did find it particularly amusing - no offence to Spanish readers - that Franco kept on missing the goal because he kept on hitting the ball to the far right. And Forlan: if there's any striker in Europe - aside perhaps from Heskey - who you want the ball to fall to in front of an open goal it's him. So, while Villa dominated the game, they didn't deserve to win because they wern't good enough to score. Simple as that. It's been the story of a fair few of our away games this season.
But not only did Villa not deserve to win because of their ability, they also deserved to lose due to the sickening amount of gamesmanship and cheating they enganged in. I can actually see why a penalty was give against Clichy, but it was only after an almost unprecidented amount of simulation and snide fouling over the two legs. There was one moment, at about the twenty minute mark, where the ball fell to Hleb, and a Villa player went down injured behind him. Unlike Carrick, there was no way Hleb could have seen this so he continued his run forward but was dispossesed. As soon as the Villa player won the ball, the 'injured' player was up in a snap. Sickening, and not football. Freddie was also considerably wound up by a plethora of dirty challenges on him, and I did worry that he was going to be carded.
But, thanks to the woeful ability of the Villa frontline, we kept ourselves in it. Until the 87 [88?] minute when Villa won a penalty. On balance, Clichy did nudge into Jose Mari, but Mari went down so quickly it was clear he was simulating. [to put it diplomatically].
Cometh the hour, cometh the impenetrable wall that is Sir Jens Lehmann. Riquelme stepped up as Jose Mari high-fived with the Villareal players. But, at that moment, I wanted no one else in goals but Jens. This season, Jens has always given me hope: I've been able to rely on him to make at least 2-3 world-class saves per game. And to my count he'd only made one that night.
Riquelme struck to Jens' left. Jens dived, stretched, and knocked the ball out. The ball flew past Riquelme, ensuring a tap in wouldn't follow, and somehow, eventually, ended up ended Jens foot.
I said previously that Jens' save at Highbury against Real was the equivalent of Tel's goal in Madrid. Jens' save tonight would have been comparable to Thierry picking up the ball on our goal-lin and then dribbling it past 10 players before playing a 1-2 off the Villa keeper's chest in order to trap the ball on the back of his neck and flicking it behind himself to scorpion kick it into the net to win us the game in the last minute of extra time. Jens, du bist mein kaiser. [sorry that's appalling German, I don't even know if it's right.] Jens's save also ensured a 10th successive CL cleansheet. Georgie G would surely have been proud.
So we're there. The final of the European cup. First London team to ever do so.
We did what we had to tonight. CL knock-out football is a two leg tie: it doesn't matter if Villa dominated us tonight, we did the business in the first leg. It would have been nice to see a goal - and would certainly have been better for all of our health/sanity - but then we'd have been denied the sheer, utter, unimpeachable glory and bliss of Jens' save. We didn't play particularly well, but we will be unquantifiably better in Paris. Whoever we face.
Bonjour Paris, nous sommes le Arsenal.