Thursday, May 18, 2006

Always outnumbered, never outgunned: Arsenal in Paris.

I don’t generally read or favour the Daily Express, but I think their headline summed it up:

‘So brave, So close’.

My god, I don’t think I’ve ever been prouder to be a gooner. We were Churchillian in our defence. We surrendered, but only after an amount of pressure comparable to that which led to the evacuation of the BEF in 1940. If Winston had been there, I know who he’d have favoured. A heroic defeat? We could only be from Britain.

We came out and dominated the first twenty minutes. After barely 2 or 3 minutes Henry produced a flick of Bergkamp at Newcastle-esque brilliance. Unfortunately, and remarkably, the finish didn’t follow. A few minutes later he viciously whipped a shot in which was unconvincingly beaten out by Valdez.

We were on top, we were dominating, we were dictating. And then Eto’o went through. Jens made a professional foul. It was a red card. But if the referee had any common sense, he lets the goal stand, keeps Jens on, and plays on 11 v 11. That is the spirit of the game. Ok, If Giuly misses, Jens had to go. But with that red card, the game as a contest between two competitive teams died. And through sensible refereeing it could have been prevented. 1)He has two other options: one blow up immediately and not even see if advantage could be played. This is the option he took and shows, to my mind, a poor referee. Or 2) the even harsher option which would have been to allow the goal and send off Jens, which was a definite possibility.

Most of all I felt for Jens – the immortal hero of Villareal. He’s still my player of the season, and if I was in his boots I would have done exactly the same. Still, and for ever, a hero and Arsenal legend.

Almunia came on, and had a mixed game. He played as well as he could. He made a superb save early on from Eto’o, but I felt Jens would have kept out at least one of the goals. What struck me was how poor his distribution was when compared to Jens. Every time he got the ball he punted it straight back upfield, which put the pressure straight back on us. Yet I felt for him – he’s not good enough for this level, but he played his heart out. And that’s all you can ask.

No Jens = 10 men. And if anyone, anyone, doubted whether Arsenal are an ‘English club’ they should have seen our effort afterward. It was backs to the wall, never say die stuff, that, I’m sorry, only premiership clubs can do. Barca would have folded like a Catalan flag under Franco in similar circumstances. [oops, un-PC goonerboy]

And on 37 Eboue dived and won a free kick. Sol headed it in. Was this justice or not? Did we deserve to be ahead if we dived to get it? I don’t know. It reminded me a lot of Lampard’s goal against France in Euro 2004. Indeed the whole game seemed similar, aside from the sending off: one team going one-nil up, defending, coming so close, and then the other scoring two late-ish goals to settle it.

Second half was an ordeal. Ultimately, however, we blew it. Freddie – who was a colossus tonight – could have got the decisive goal. Tel, when put in a position I would stake my house on him scoring from, missed a golden opportunity. If he had been on Left-channel, game over.

Minutes turned to hours and it seemed we could hold out. And then the substitutes. Inspired by Rijkaard; insipid by Wenger. Larrson changed the game. That right-back whose name I can’t and don’t want to remember did as well. Flam merely came on and showed us why his best position is Left-back, not centre-mid.

If we’d have held for 5 more minutes we would have done it. Barca’s heads would have gone down and we could have held on. But as soon as he first goal came, I thought we were only possibly going to win via penalties. The second came and I thought it was over. We had nothing left in the tank. Several bridges which should have been too far had been crossed.

And so it is. Runners-up. Barca get big ears.

I’ve written a separate article on why I love Arsenal, and why I’m as proud as ever to be a Gooner.

We were awesome tonight, in the circumstances. Considering all of Europe had written us off, we held Barca with a man down for the majority of the game, who only broke our defence with an offside goal. That is what particularly stings me.

I can’t really particularly fault a player. The back four were all incredible. Sol, who we’d all doubted before the game, had his best game for two to three years. Ash, Eboue, Toure: kings among men. Freddie, Gilbs, and Hleb played their hearts out and can’t really be faulted. Indeed, even though Fabregas never really got into the game, this was completely a result of the sending off. The midfield had to rapidly adapt, and Fab struggled, despite some beautiful flashes of what could have been. I was also gutted for Bobby, and this was, if the papers are to be believed an undignified send-off for such a great career at the club.

Neither Henry nor Ronaldinho influenced the game in the manner every one thought. Ronaldinho was selfish and arrogant, constantly trying to penetrate the Arsenal defence single-handedly which Campbell and Toure lapped up – Henry, notably, was scathing in his assessment of Ron’s performance post-match. Henry himself was infuriatingly peripheral, but this was again a product of the sending off. He worked and worked, but couldn’t get into the game. If he goes to Barca after this game I’ll be amazed, truly amazed. He was not impressed by the conduct of the Barca players, and I think this will weigh heavy in his mind. Tel has pride and a real belief in the innate beauty of football – I think he saw tonight that, even in defeat, we offer that to him far more than Barca. Of course, he could still go elsewhere.

A word has to be said on the ref who was awful. The Lehmann sending off is perhaps justifiable - but booking Henry for a legitimate challenge in which Van Bommel kicked him in the back? allowing teh barca centre backs to kick Tel to death? booking only one Barca player in the match. Apalling. Utterly appalling.

What most pains me is that I truly believe that 11 v 11, even 1-0 down, we would have won. We had ten times the backbone of Barca. Yet as soon as the sending off happened we were only ever going to knick it. That we came so close to doing so fills me with pride.

But we’ll never know. We deserved it tonight, we truly did. And all we can do is hope for next year. One day, hopefully before I die, we’ll get that little yellow star above our badge.

We never win in Paris do we? All I can say is, if you’re a gooner, be proud of the team.



Morry said...

Nah, The ref was right to send Jens off. The whistle had gone before Giuly struck the ball and the only decision was to give the red card.

Good performance by Eto'o though. Had to work hard to leave his foot in there for Jens to collect...

Anonymous said...

fantastic article. hits the spots everytime. arsenal did us proud, and only an amatuer referee lost it for us. c'mon you gunners!!

Ragdag Figger said...

Excellent article. It was a night that made me proud to be an Arsenal fan. Shame that Thierry choked though.

Anonymous said...

Er... spurs fan....

Maybe you should spend some time on your own fan sites.

I understand how great the Arsenal sites are so you spend your time looking them up but Spurs could really do with some fans on theirs. Not much to talk about there I guess the only interesting things that happen to them are off the pitch.

Arsenal Forever. Keep watching.

Anonymous said...

Not mad on this spirit of the Blitz, plucky little losers rhetoric. If we have to indulge in lazy national stereotyping, give me French anger and a sense of justice any day of the week. I admire Arsene and Thierry's passion, rage and pursuit of perfection. The last thing I want in a manger and a captain is a good little English loser.

And on the subject of Catalan nationalism: meaningless, spineless? Not in my view. Their fullback Oleguer even wrote a book about the fight against Franco. Can't alas see our Ash doing anything quite so effortful and constructive.

Goonerboy said...

Mate, it was an off hand joke about Catalan nationalism. I know its hardcore in reality: i've studied the SCW in quite some depth. Just seemed like a nice analogy at the time.

And i only banged on about the English thing because it seemed ironic, y'know, most English thing one can do is lose heroically, yet everyone was banging on about us being a bunch of foreigners.

And to Spurs fans:

1) your comments will be deleted so please don't bother
2) get a life. Maybe if you didn't harp on about our defeats so much you could concentrate on your own performances
3) Until you have qualified for the CL, let alone played in its final, you have no right to comment in the first place.

Ta ta.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...


anti said...

Apologies for the Churchillian thing. It was a coincidence as I read the blogs after I write my bit; not before.

My only argument against the we were better 11 vs 11 argument is the time was brief and cant really be used to speculate. Henry's post-match comment was just poor but he was really pumped up for this game so his disappointment had to manifest itself somehow and that's the way he chose to get it out of his system.

And sorry about that thing once again, I don't usually criticise other bloggers, even by inference.