Tuesday, April 25, 2006

A king among men: Jens Lehmann, I love you.

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.


jobby said...

great blog today boy. Wasnt gibba simply immense last night and thought Clichy done well esp going forward, as much as I respect what Flam has done was still great to have a naturally left sided player there last night.

Anonymous said...

Paris is calling - the Arsenal boys are going home.

ian7 said...

GREAT NIGHT!!! It about time we got to the final. Should have been there in 2004 but getting there in 2006 in our last season at highbury just seems like it was meant to be.
We did play well. Not offensively but defensively. I dont care what anyone says about Campbell, Clichey etc, our defence was AWESOME. Done forget that after Jen's penalty save, it was Campbell who knocked it away from two oncoming Villarreal players and the ball went to Lehmann. And as good as Flamini has played, Clichy done great-not getting beaten and bursting forward with the ball. Senderos and Flam deserve to play in the final but i want campbell and clichy up against Messi and Eto'o.
We better not go and get anything less that 3points against sunderland.

Anonymous said...

Now all we need is for Spuds to slip up at Bolton and go into the final having finished fourth. No pressure on getting into next years CL.

50th European Cup.
Last Season at Highbury.
Could there be a better time?

hans vandereken said...

I read in the netherlands that Mr Wenger has a psychologist with the team since the first of you madrid game and ever after that. This is interest to me because we have won the game in the mind last night. I have never seen such a resilience and mental tough performance from this arsenal team. super lehmann won the psychology battle to riquleme as well. thank you mr wenger for having the psyhcologist on the team to help this young side change mentally so very quickly. we can win it of course now

Anonymous said...

You have to say that ignoring his kick out at some villa c*nt, Gilberto had an absolutely immense game.

He's been slagged off quite a bit over the course of this season (and rightfully so as well if truth be told) but he's really come good over the last few weeks.

Jens is as mad as a box of frogs but I don't think any of us would have it any other way. A true true character, and you always need characters in goal.

I must admit I still can't believe we're there.... and with 10 days to recouperate after the premiership ends I think we can give any team a run for their money.

Anonymous said...

Lieb' dich, Jens. Pauvre Flam, pauvre Senderos. Et pauvre, pauvre, pauvre Vieira. What must he be feeling today?

What struck me about Villarreal (the sly cheating apart) was how rested and focused they were. A lesson for us. Imagine going into the final with key players still exhausted, jaded or injured. Remember how Milan suffered in last year's final having just played a title decider against Juve - and may suffer tonight without Nesta, Kaka, and Co. I think we should protect everyone indispensable: that's Toure, Cesc, Gilberto, Eboue, Hleb, and Henry at a minimum. Sol and Clichy, on the other hand, badly need games. Ditto Ashley, in the unlikely event he condescends to risk further injury playing for us before his departure. (I've recently developed a probably unjustified resentment of Ash.)

Forza Barca tonight. I detest Belusconi's Milan and have always liked Barca. Anyway, it's somehow written in the stars that they'll be our opponents, don't you think?

Just heard we've opted to play in our lucky yellow, so no need for the toss of the coin.

Anonymous said...

This site is so much better without the 'U r cunts' type of comment. Pity it now seems to have died.

No shortage of things to talk about. For starters: who would we like to see play in the final? I can't help hoping Ashley will be ready so we return to that once astonishing left side of Henry, Pires and Ash. Not so sure about Sol, though. I heard someone on the radio suggest that it was his nervousness that made us play much too deep, dragging everyone backwards and leaving Henry stranded up front. No disputing that's what happened, but was Sol to blame? I also sense that Lehmann feels more secure with Senderos playing. Though I don't especially trust him as a centreback, I don't trust Sol either, and I think Senderos, given how hard he's worked to improve throughout the season, deserves to be picked, assuming if he's fit.

Reyes was suprisingly poor against Villa - surprising, because it's his home fans he wants to impress - and frankly, though I sympathise with his unhappiness, I'm getting fed up with his fluttering his eyelashes at Real. More honourable to straightforwardly ask for a transfer. Pires is at least being open about wanting more than the one-year deal he's offered by us, and I'd pick him over Reyes on the basis of form.

What happens if Hleb's knee doesn't recover? Do we revert to 4-4-2 - with Dennis presumably, seeing as van P is currently worse than useless? Not keen on that prospect at all so I find myself desperately dreaming of Walcott - that he will feature in the last couple of games of the season, playing just left of Freddie, and will slot in so stunningly confidently, he'll be given a chance in the absence of Hleb. Dream on.

jobby said...

touch early to talk bout CL team, we'll have 10 days after prem finishes to analyse the shite outta it.
What team so you reckon we should play against Sunderland?

i say
Gilbert Djourou Sol Clichy

Walcott diaby Gilberto Reyes

Adebayor Van P

Surely this team is good enough to beat a team who hasnt won a home game all season.

Then bring back in some of the more experienced players for the Man City game on Thurs.

Goonerboy said...

Walcott starting? hmmm.

Anon.10.46 - pease see my post on 24 April - I have lots of work on for next month. It's a shame but the site will suffer. It will only be temporary though. I may even try and make a post in my lunch break today.

jobby said...

seemingly Walcott picked up an injury in the reserve game, ballbag, wanted to see him before the end of the season.

Anonymous said...

Goonerboy, I realise you've got loads of work, but that doesn't mean the rest of us can't rabbit on about nothing, or does it?

Team for Sunderland: agree with Jobby that whoever we put out should be enough. Yeah I remember ManU had trouble, but the Carling Cup reserve side for God's sake have beaten much better teams. I've heard Ash is starting. We now seem to have a million left-footed players but with Walcott injured - sod it - there's a dearth on the right of midfield. Which side does Ryan Smith (who lives in the next street from me but I can't really put a note through the door) usually play? As they can't use Hoyte perhaps we could have him back a game early and try the pacy Gilbert in midfield?. Also what about Larsson - or is he also totally left-footed? Pity about the wretched van P: if he wasn't so one-dimensional - that's to say, lazy and slow - he could play on the wing. Don't like the idea of him up front with Ade as they haven't gelled at all well. Bendtner is scoring - could he have a chance with either Dennis or van P? I'd expect Song to feature at some point, probably in place of Gilberto, with Diaby playing more forward? The good thing is, we'll know by Monday whether the tiny tot have dropped points against Bolton; if they've picked up all three, then hopefully Wenger won't go on chasing the league. I'm terrified that some other exhausted indispensable player is going to get injured, though clearly Ashley, Sol and Clichy need the games.