Monday, May 15, 2006

'Once more unto the breach': Champions League preview.

So, the day is finally approaching. It's all been a bit surreal since we beat Villareal. It's not like the World cup where you basically play the final two or three days after the Semi. It's been a fairly long wait between Jens' save and Paris. I've been pretty busy with my work recently, but it suddenly struck me on Sunday. We are in the final of the Champions League. I think I almost had a panic attack as this realisation washed over me. It's taken so long for the significance of this to sink in. I truly, without hyperbole, think this is this is the biggest match in the club's history; easily the biggest in my fifteen years as a fan. And we're so close to glory!

And what a journey it's been this year! I never thought i would see the performances of the type Arsenal have put out this year in the CL. I remember, and I hope some of you do as well, when we won the CWC back in '94. For me, this year's European campaign has a similar feeling to it. A sense, if i dare to say it, of destiny. Of course, I thought I had the same feeling in '95. And then Msr. Nayim stepped up.

It's been an incredible run. I'll never forget the way we took apart Real in Madrid. How Henry, almost nonchalantly, thought 'sod this, I'm going to have to go even further than you thought possible'. I love the commentary on Itv. Tyldesley and Pleat are badgering on about some injury, before Clive realises that Henry has skipped past half the Real squad. Henreeeeeeee!!! One of the greatest footballing moments i've ever experienced. And the way we almost disdainfully brushed aside Juve. One could almost sympathise. Couldn't rig the referee for that game, eh?

And now it's Paris in May and one game.

Can we do it?

Yes, is the short answer. Yes, I'm an Arsenal fan and I'm bound to say that, you may cry. But there is logic in my subjectiveness.

To Johann Cruyff, half the Barca squad, and most of Barcelona, there is no game on Wednesday: there is a trophy collection ceremony. How can this not work in our favour? Only, chillingly, Ronaldinho seems to have given us any credit; mostly because he's a really nice guy, and doesn't have a chip the size of Highbury on his shoulder like Van Bronkhorst. We need to lure Barca in, pretend we are the weak wounded beast they think. And then strike.

Simply put, we play 4-5-1. I have a feeling this won't be the high-scoring, carnival of joga bonita football final that most neutrals hope. Most finals are tense, tight and low scoring. Occasionally, as Liverpool have shown, they do open up - but this is the exception not the norm. By the time players have reached the final, they know there can be no mistakes. One mistake can be the difference between going home with big ears or not. So conservative football usually rules. Only if early goals are scored, and the game immediately opens up does this change.

I think we'll try and knick it one-nil. We have the players to do this, by subduing Barca for 60-70 minutes, then scoring. Barca have some great players: Eto'o and Ronaldinho in particular are almost sans pair in the world. But, look at Barca's defence: Van Bronkhorst - Arsenal reject; their keeper, whose name I forget, didn't make the Spanish squad; and i think Henry could skin Puyol. This is not an impenetrable line.

I think one moment of brilliance will determine the final. Henry has produced one against Real, Juve [ his goal and his pass to Fab], and Villa [ his pass to Hleb]. It will be cagey, and contained football, with one surgical incision being the critical moment. I've always said that henry is a better player than Ronaldinho, and that if he was either Brazillian or played in Spain he'd have the world player of the year on debenture until retirement. I hope he proves me right on Wednesday.

Everyone needs to be immense, but in particular the Spine needs to be sound. Jens, Henry, Fab, and Senderos/Toure, need to play out their skin. If Senderos is fit he must start before Campbell. Gilberto has to help the defence contain Ronaldinho and Eto'o. Most importantly our flanks need to be firing. Hleb and Eboue can take Van Bronkhorst apart. Jose and Ash - i'm sorry, because i think you've been awesome, but Ash must start over Flam - must do the same on the left. If the flanks are firing, and the defence is sound, Henry and Fabregas can start pulling the strings, and things could really go our way.

The problem with finals is that they're almost impossible to predict when they're between two teams of almost equal stature. I think the players, and most fans, know what type of football we have to play to win this thing. But in finals, strange things occur, and so predictions are often fruitless.

Until this year i truly doubted whether we would ever be in the final of this competition. And now that we're here, all I ask is: no regrets. Whether we win or lose I want to see all our boys run until their legs seize up with cramp [preferably when we're comfortably winning though], and fight until the last bead of sweat exits their body. Because that's all you can ask: that we do our best to win this trophy. We have come so far, and with one more push its ours.

To quote the man who's got us there:

If you do not believe you can do it then you have no chance at all.

Come on Arsenal. Show Barca this is our time.

See you all on Thursday. A, frankly, petrified Gb.


Ash said...

To be fair Gio has improved alot but he's still a weak link. Hleb and Eboue are unstoppable at the moment. Big performance needed from Reyes he needs to stop being over elaborate and then lose the ball. He is the one who is a bit up and down but everyone needs to perform. I hope Senderos partners Toure, Sol is still too heavy and Toure likes to play with Big Phill

We basically need to score first. Barcelona are weak on set pieces I hope we can take advantage

Come on Arsenal!!

Black said...

dubdue barca for 60-70 mins. Really. Barca. No. It doesnt happen like that, yo can t hope to stop your oopponent scoring, because more often than not they will. The only way to defend properly against barca is to attack, keeping the spine - GILB,TOURE,SENDEROS/CAMPBALL behind in order to stub out the counter. Its got to be an end to end game, that way barca wont like the pace of it but itl be just like the PREM. Never let barca play at their own pace, or theyl kill us

Anonymous said...

Arseblog says the word is it's going to be Sol. Ditto The Times Euro supp., though they also assume Belletti will be at rightback, which would surprise me as he played the full 90 mins at the weekend to rest Oleguer. Hope it is Belletti - he'll give us some space. Sol, however: think I'm staying in bed with a pillow over my head.

DB10 said...

Goonerboy - without being sycophantic this site is fast becoming one of my favourite gooner blog sites (along with arseblog). Great analysis. Keep up the good work mate.

As for tomorrow, all I can say is f*ckin' hell I'm starting to get nervous.

The boys just need to give this one the best they can, and hope to god we are all playing to the best of our ability.

Reyes needs to perform on this stage. I think his running is vital.

I think the team that went to Madrid and played them off the park should be the starting line up. The desire and unity among that bunch of players may well be the difference between success and failure (if there is any faiure in getting to the CL final?).

I agree totally with black when he essentially says the best form of defence is attack.

I have to say that I really hope big Phil is the man partnering Toure. He deserves it, and he brings a sense of calm to the entire back 5 that Campbell doesn't.

If it is to be Campbell then so be it - Arseblog talks about him owing us, and in truth I would forgive him 1000 times over if we kept a clean sheet with Campbell on the pitch - but I hope it's Senderos. He doesn't seem to panic as much even when he's had some bad starts to games.

Part of me thinks Wenger could be playing mind games with Barca ... everyone thinks it's gonna be campbell then he switches at the last minute.

As people have pointed out though, Barca & set pieces doesn't really happen - so maybe the game is more suited to Sol.

I know I'm just rambling now, but I can't stop thinking about the game.

With a great team performance and a little luck we could be european champions in 36 hours! Fuck that sounds good. Here's praying.

Up the gunners.

gazzap said...

yeah great blog goonerboy.
I am starting to sweat at the thought of it and we are still 30 hours from kick off. I would so much more relaxed if I knew that Sol wasn't playing. I know we are meant to have faith in our players but I get the feeling something awful is about to happen involving him.

I have to pull myself together. what will be will be.

Anonymous said...

Wenger said at the press conference that Senderos isn't match fit. God, I pray this IS mind games but common sense tells that as he only returned to training on Sunday morning, it has to also be true. Half-fit Senderos better than Sol? If Sol was responsible for dragging everyone back out of position against Villarreal, isolating Thierry, I'd say absolutely. This is a nightmare. Messi is on the bench, but he can't be fit either.

Anonymous said...

Looked at sensibly - player for player, goal-scoring record, teamwork, team spirit, above all the presence of Sol - I wouldn't give us a prayer. But Lee Dixon said last night he had a gut feeling that against all the odds we would do it. I have as well, and today's Guardian has a horoscope and tarot prediction - WE WIN.

DB10 said...

Well the way we were playing in the premiership this season you'd have said it would be a miracle for us to get to the CL final ... but miracles do happen, and look where we are.

I've no idea whether we'll win or not, but whatever happens it's a proud moment for all gooners.

As for Senderos vs. Sol, Senderos is slow anyway so does it matter if he's not fully fit?

Adams was a better reader of the game which made up for things when he wasn't fully fit, but is Big Phil really Tony Adams in disguise?

Senderos will get to the headers first and run himself into the ground for the Arsenal.

Sol will be nervous, but on his day he can still be a great defender. If he's got the guts for it any more.

In truth there's probably not much in it - I just hope if it is Sol, then he plays like we know he could when he was 2 years younger.

Up the gunners.

Anonymous said...

Heroic. Every one of them, even Sol, most especially Sol - I was totally wrong to think he'd be our downfall. Arsene knows.

Hard to single out a particular player for praise but, if I had to, it would be the one I was almost unaware of for much of the game: Gilberto. No surprise Ronaldinho was relatively anonymous -like Nedved, Zidane and Riquelme before him. Dunno how Gilberto does it, but he seems to invisibly fill up the spaces, leaving them nowhere to play.

Eboue, Freddie, Ashley, Toure, Cesc (who was on his knees by the end): no praise too high for how valiant they were. Barca are the best side around, the competition's top scorers; even with eleven players it wouldn't have been a great surprise if they'd have hammered us 3 or 4 nil. To lose by a single goal, which people who've been scrutinising the replays say was definitely offside, it's a truly amazing achievement.

Was Senderos there? Did he get his medal?

Thierry? I don't think his decision will be much affected by what happened, but if it does swing it either way, my guess is his fury will take a while to die down, and it just might fire him to stay.

Ash is going pretty definitely, it seems. Pires too, though a French journalist who's a friend of his, said yesterday that Villarreal's claims that he had already signed were a lie.

DB10 said...

Gutted. Absolutely gutted.

I agree totally about Sol - he was immense as was the rest of the team. With Campbell playing like that you have to say that we have 3 (or 4 if you include Djourou) excellent centre backs.

We just have to be sure who should partner who to get the best out of them. But that is for another time.

Words can't describe how proud of the boys we can be though. They were absolutely brilliant and fought til the dropped.

You can't ask for any more than that, and in the end maybe this will mean that the team comes back with more hunger next year.

Last night's performance was just indicative of what it is about Arsenal that we all love - a never say die attitutde against all the odds. Unfortunately it just wasn't to be last night.

Up the gunners.

Anonymous said...

Am I the only one to resent being crowded out of the regular pub by a million tourist glory-hunters, some of whom were barely watching the game? Where were that bunch when we playing Thun in September?