Villarreal 0 – 0 Arsenal (Agg: 0 – 1)
It had been my hope to write todays review of the game eulogising over the flamboyant attacking play, pulverising the Spanish hosts into submission. Instead, the match panned out nothing like that. And do you know what? I could not give the backside of a rodent. Arsenal will be in Paris on May 17th 2006, contesting the 50th Champions Cup Final. I’m going to write that again as I can scarcely believe it. Arsenal will be in Paris on May 17th 2006, contesting the 50th Champions Cup Final. If I remember back to the first time I went regularly to Highbury, such an event seemed a millenium away. In those days, the League title was as steep a challenge as could be thought of. Hell, even winning the League Cup in 1987 was a big event. But this tops it all. This is what makes supporting your team worthwhile. Arsenal will be in Paris on May 17th 2006, contesting the 50th Champions Cup Final.
In truth the match itself will not be remembered with any fondness, the outcome being all that mattered. Which is just as well, as it was the second game in four days where we could have been dead and buried by half time. That it took virtually the whole ninety minutes for a clear chance to be created and almost taken is something that takes some getting used to. This is the first match in this campaign where Wengers’ charges have surrendered possession and ground so readily in the first 70 minutes.
Of course, the real talking point of the match was the penalty. In a cosmic moment of justice, Jose Mari who was unfairly denied a penalty in the first leg, threw himself to the floor and must have thought all his birthdays had come at once when the Russian referee finally succumbed to the theatrics and pointed to the spot. Tension built, Riquelme struck it well, Lehmann having guessed right saved low to his left and gathered the rebound on the opposite side of the area. Had Riquelme converted the spot kick, then extra time would have been no more than the Valencians would have deserved. Franco had three chances to score with headers, although only one brought a save from Lehmann, Sorin should have scored with a shot from the left side of the area following a good lay-off from Senna, Riquelme hit two freekicks straight down Lehmann’s throat and in order to keep the patronising tosh spouting from Clive Tyldesleys’ trap, Forlan shot high and wide which description does little justice to the fact that Lehmann was already at his feet when he received the ball.
Arsenal’s performance as a team was disjointed. Very little possession was retained for more than thirty seconds with everyone intent on giving their Spanish hosts as much ball practice as is humanly possible in the ninety minutes. Where there are positives to draw are that everyone chased and harried – would that they showed this commitment in the domestic games, Gilberto was once again outstanding in protecting the back four and deserves all the plaudits for being able to pass to a colleague rather than an opponent, and finally the returns of Campbell, very possibly earning his World Cup place with tonights performance, and Clichy who replaced Flamini early on and promptly ran 70 yards chasing a lost cause with so much enthusiasm.
Oh, one last positive: Arsenal will be in Paris on May 17th 2006, contesting the 50th Champions Cup Final.