Tuesday, February 15, 2011

It Would Be Impressive.

A victory in this tie would rank as Arsenal's best ever European result.

Recent years have seen some eye-catching ones, but it's easy to pick holes with the benefit of hindsight.

MILAN at the San Siro. 2-0. 2008
This was a fantastic performance against an experienced team that had been consistently impressive in Europe for years. The season before, they had taught Manchester United a chastening lesson in the semi finals. Having been unlucky to lose an Old Trafford thriller 3-2, they passed around a passive United for fun in the second leg, an exhibition of patient possession football. Kaka, Seedorf and Gilardino blasted United out of the competition.
Nearly a year on, Arsenal basically did to Milan what Milan had done to United. After a goalless first leg dominated by the Gunners, late goals from Fabregas and Adebayor sent Arsenal into the quarter finals. In midfield, Arsenal's men outshone their Milan counterparts. Fabregas dictated brilliantly. Flamini was instrumental in defusing Kaka, while Hleb was more dangerous in his dribbles than the lauded Brazilian. It seemed a young side had come of age. In hindsight, what is more clear is that an old side had finally passed its sell-by-date. Arsenal looked like they would soon dominate England and Europe, but injuries took hold, and they bottled the title race with a run of disappointing draws. Liverpool enjoyed a mountain of luck in the quarter finals and Arsenal were out of Europe. Hleb and Flamini left in the summer, Adebayor's head was turned by interest from other clubs, and Arsenal took several steps back.

MADRID at the Bernebeau. 1-0. 2006

Arsenal played Real off the park to become the first English team to win there. Henry's solo goal a memorable moment, but Arsenal should already have had the tie decided after a litany of first half chances went begging. The second leg was an epic end to end battle, surely one of the best goalless draws ever.
Real still had Ronaldo, Zidane and Raul on the books, but they were shambolic defensively and lacking real midfield presence. The result had undoubted symbolic significance- providing the impetus for Arsenal's run to the final- but this Real team was far from a great one. As the old aura faded further, they would be knocked out by some fairly average teams in the years after 2006. They still haven't seen a quarter final since 2004.

JUVENTUS at Highbury. 2-0. 2006
Juve were dominating Serie A. We subsequently found there were some rather murky dealings involved. That took some of the shine off Arsenal's exciting first leg win, the game where Fabregas cemented his status as one of the world's very best young players.
The build-up had been all about Patrick Vieira's return, but the Frenchman, less than a year after his departure, no longer had the legs to deal with Premiership tempo football. His head must have been swimming trying to deal with the running of Reyes, Hleb and Fabregas. The Catalan opened the scoring with a near post shot, after Robert Pires, in a memorably surreal moment, produced a Vieiraesque tackle to dispossess Vieira himself. The win was sealed by Henry after a fast and flowing team move, ending with Fabregas's unselfish pass providing his self-obsessed captain with an open net. Henry proceeded to celebrate alone as if he had scored a solo goal. At the other end, Senderos was enjoying a run of form he never came close to repeating. Having excelled against Madrid in the previous round, he and Kolo Toure comfortably shackled the dual threat of Trezeguet and Ibrahimovic, both in this and in a rather dull, goalless second leg.

1 comment:

gerryb said...

looking forward to your verdict on the match!