Real Madrid 0 – 1 Arsenal
0 – 1 Henry (47)
Quite simply, this was the best performance of the season. Full stop. End of discussion. Having been exhorted by everyone to produce the goods in a big match, Thierry Henry duly did so. Without doubt, he produced a captains performance. Most notably, he could be seen from the TV pictures exhorting his colleagues to greater efforts. Remarkably, he did not complain when passes went astray or their runs / passes were not quite good enough. Tonight he showed that he can captain a team.
I am the first to admit that I am amazed by the performance and the result. Lets’ not hide the fact. Arsenal deserved to win. In truth, the margin of victory should have been greater – am I being picky? 4 – 2 to Arsenal a fair result?- with Reyes forcing a good save from Casillas in the opening minutes, Henry going close with a header and Ljungberg being denied by one of the tackles of the season by Roberto Carlos – a second slower and it would have been a penalty. It took Madrid 25 minutes to even have an attempt of any meaning that was vaguely on target. If Arsenal had gone in 2 goals to the good at the half time interval, it would not have been an injustive. For once, Arsenal did to another team what opponents have been doing to us in the Premiership all season; Madrid were forced to pass across the pitch by a solid defensive wall, starting with Henry and Reyes chasing and harrassing defenders, Ljungberg, Fabregas and Hleb forcing Beckham et al to pass and pass sideways whilst the defence made tackles as if their lives depended on it, Robinho forced onto the periphery of the match.
The second half was more of the same although Madrid had several good chances to equalise as you would expect a home side to do at this stage of the competition. But with barely two minutes gone, Henry produced the goods. As Hedley Lamarr so aptly put it in Blazing Saddles, “Go Do That Voodoo – That You Do – So Well”. Sprinting past four players, forced slightly towards the angle of the penalty area, Henry guided the ball past Casillas. No doubt the onlooking Florentino Perez will be adding the Frenchman to his shopping list in the summer with that finish.
The performance was not just about Henry though. Reyes chased and harried, passed and broke well, took his punishment without too many theatrics – certainly less than in a normal Premiership afternoon – and probably did enough to remind the Spanish Press and National Coach that he is worth perservering with at international level. Ljungberg finally found form, making runs forward as if it were two seasons ago. Hleb finally showed why Wenger signed him in the summer, adding a defensive stability to the midfield, shielding the full backs well. Gilberto gave a masterclass in positional play for a defensive midfielder. Unlike Gravesen who huffed and puffed everywhere to no avail or end result, the Brazilian popped up to cut out a pass, seemingly from nowhere. As for Fabregas, proof positive that he is the future of the centre of midfield for Arsenal. On tonights display, he must surely be going to Germany in the summer. Little surprise that Barcelona were furious when he jumped ship to Arsenal.
And what of the defence? Lehmann continued his fine form, imposing himself on the whole of penalty area. Flamini was solid and overall performed well considering he was out of position, Eboue just looked completed unfazed by anything that came his way. Toure led the back four solidly who with Senderos marked Ronaldo, Raul, Robinho so assuredly, denying them many clear chances on goal. Sure there were moments of panic but no more than Chelsea, Liverpool or Manchester United have against quality opposition. Definitely none that compare with the naivety shown in recent weeks.
And what of the Madrilenos? Their pride will be hurt by that performance. Defensively naive is a polite description. Positioning by the central defenders, Ramos and the wee lad whose name escapes me, Meliha(?), showed them for what they are – promising youngsters although in Ramos’ case, a very expensive promising youngster. Woodgate seemed assured for the 10 minutes that he was on the pitch and it is hard to see (a) how he will be fit enough for England in the World Cup and (b) whether he would have made any difference to the result. As I noted yesterday, Ronaldo’s performance showed why he gets gip from the fans in the stadium. He was woeful and not helped by poor passing and performances by his colleagues.
So everyone should enjoy this evenings result. There is still more work to be done at Highbury in the second leg but more of the same and we can dream that Arsenal will be in the hat for the Quarter Finals.
A wee piece of the reportage from Spain to see how they are reporting it:
- Marca – “Henry deja al Madrid contra los cuerdas” (Henry leaves Madrid on the ropes)
- Marca – “JUSTO TRIUNFO DEL ARSENAL EN EL BERNABÉU” (Deserved Victory for the Arsenal in the Bernabeu)
- Sport – “Henry silencia al Bernabeu con golazo a lo Ronaldinho” (Henry silences the Bernabeu with a goal of Ronaldinho)
- AS– “WENGER Y HENRY DESPIERTAN VIEJOS FANTASMAS” (Wenger and Henry wake up old Ghosts) – the first paragraph goes on to eulogise about Wenger offering a master tacticians lesson to the Bernabeu, using Henry’s speed and the great Cesc)
- La Razon – “Henry desquició al Madrid; Zidane, desaparecido” – Henry disturbs Madrid; Zidane, disappears
- Emilio Butragueno, now a Madrid director, praised Wenger’s tactics which according to him showed that Arsenal had studied their opponents well.
- David Beckham believed that Arsenal were superior and that the only positive was that he was not booked so is free to play in the return leg.
- Marca shows a picture of Casillas saving from Ljungberg and notes that “it could have been more”.
- ABC – “Lo Pez Caron” – The Fish Caro
- La Vanguardia – “El Madrid, al borde de la nada. El Arsenal mas joven de los ultimos anos gana con gran comodidad en el Bernabeu” – Madrid, on the brink of nothing. The Youngest Arsenal team in recent years win with great ease in the Bernabeu.
- El Mundo Deportivo – “Henry saca en el Bernabeu todo su repertorio. El crack frances asombro en Madrid con su futbol poderoso y elegante, culminado con un gol antologico – Henry takes the Bernabeu with all of his repetoire. The ace Frenchman astonishes Madrid with powerful and elegant football, finishing with a goal of all time.Todays media game is spot the newspapers based in Barcelona…
But quote of the day belongs to Samuel Eto’o: “Mourinho is a s**t”. Top man, please make him welcome when he comes to Highbury or Ashburton Grove in the future.
PS Did I mention that Arsenal are the first English team to win in the Santiago Bernabeu? Not a draw, Tiny Tots. A win. Cue singing, “1 – 0 to the Arsenal…”
Todays Tunes? A bonanza of The Jam.