2006-04-25

Closer to Heaven

In a glorious night, Arsenal got their best result in their history after. By eliminating Villarreal with a 0-0 draw in El Madrigal stadium, the Gunners reached the Final of the Champions League.

German goalkeeper Jens Lehmann was the hero when he stopped Juan Roman Riquelme's 89th minute penalty as the Gunners hung on to progress 1-0 on aggregate and will now play in Paris on May 17th against either Barcelona or AC Milan.

Indeed, when Gaël Clichy was harshly judged to have knocked over José Mari — it was only a slight nudge from a featherweight full back — Riquelme stepped up to take the match into extra time. Instead, Lehmann bounced at least a yard off his line, diving to his left to send Arsenal to Paris and into ecstasy.

It's time to celebrate, but it's also time to analize the good and bad sides of the team, just like the coach did.

“You will see a different team at the Final in Paris,” Wenger said, not completely happy with the game of his team. “We will recover physically and we have everything to win. We will give it our best shot and I believe we will do it.”

We must understand that the same timid performance would bring only despair in Paris, whether it is Barcelona or AC Milan in opposition. Arsenal played poorly throughout, seemingly trying their hardest to live up to Riquelme’s disdainful description of Wenger’s cavaliers as “nine men behind the ball and Henry”.

They endured it, to leave Arsenal coach wondering if the Gunners’ name is on the cup but, if a wonderfully unexpected, uplifting story is to have a happy ending, they will first have to remember how to move the ball without inhibitions.

2006-04-19

Great 1-0 Victory over Villarreal

Kolo Touré surprised everyone scoring his first goal, and helping Arsenal FC beat Villarreal 1-0 at Highbury. Now the English team is very close to reach the Champions League Final in Paris.

In fact, Villarreal came into the match undefeated in five previous encounters with English opposition. However, were undone by Touré's close-range finish four minutes before half-time that settled a tense tie in Arsenal's favour. The Gunners managed to stop Juan Román Riquelme, for the majority of the encounter, and should they stretch their run without conceding to a tenth match, a spot in the final in Paris on 17 May beckons.

Arsenal manged to press all the game, but it took until four minutes before the break for them to go in front as Henry fed Hleb from a short corner and the Belarusian's cross was turned in from close range by Toure.

It's important to notice that the home team nearly threw their advantage away before the break though as Gilberto Silva tangled with striker Jose Mari and was fortunate not to give a penalty shot away.

We can say that despite their defensive frailties on the night, Arsenal FC did look confident going forward and Thierry Henry almost made it two but his shot was cleared off the line by Cesar Arzo.

Despite their confidence, they struggled to break the Spanish side down for the remainder of the half as both teams looked to stick with what they just had for the second-leg next Tuesday.

2006-04-15

Bergkamp still in Arsenal hearts

We can say that the game was what it was intended to be: Dennis Bergkamp’s Day. Coming on as a substitute in the 72nd minute, the illustrious Dutchman almost immediately saw West Bromwich Albion score a potentially devastating equaliser. Yet three minutes after that it was Bergkamp who hooked the ball back across the Albion goal, enabling Frenchman Robert Pires, to score.

And then Bergkamp scored. On 89 minutes, receiving from Emmanuel Eboue, Dennis calmly and irresistibly slammed a right-footed shot wide of Tomasz Kuszczak in the Albion goal to secure maximum points for the Gunners.

“I really think it was disrespectful,” declared his manager Arsène Wenger afterwards, “to say to Dennis, you came on because it was your day. I felt we needed his vision. We needed somebody because Van Persie looked tired and Hleb looked tired.”

It's important to mention that Bergkamp will retire this summer and Arsenal may find him irreplaceable. Time after time, whether playing up front, never his favourite role, or just behind the striker, he has shown himself, in the old Italian phrase, “capable of inventing the game”. And we know it.

2006-04-09

Manchester United 2 - Arsenal 0

It was obvious that Arsenal is focused on the Champions League. And it's also obvious that Manchester United still dreams of being Champions. It was so obvious that the final result was a 2-0 win for Manchester.

Wayne Rooney and Ji-Sung Park scored the winning goals, as Thierry Henry was sitting on the bench. Emmanuel Adebayor and Robin van Persie were the starter strikers of the Gunners.

In fact, the Gunners enjoyed the better of the first quarter, dominating possession on a slick Old Trafford surface, with Arsenal’s front two both failing to capitalise on nice chances.

However, United gradually began to force their way back into the game. Jens Lehmann, outstanding all match, was forced to make a series of good saves from close-range and long-distance shots from Rooney.

It's fair to say that United could have taken a lead before the break and were unfortunate not to be given a penalty. Amazingly, Rooney rounded Lehmann, who got a glove to the ball, bringing down Kolo Toure. The Ivory Coast international appeared to handle the ball as he tumbled and knocked the ball onto the post from Rooney’s shot.

Manchester United began to turn the screw in the second half and after an extended period of pressure in the Arsenal half, Rooney opened the scoring.

In a very classy move, Rooney controlled the ball expertly and shot fiercely past Lehmann.

Arsenal brought on Henry in an attempt to restore parity but the captain, receiving little possession from his team mates, made little impact on proceedings.

In the end, Ji-Sung Park made sure of the victory for United with a goal ten minutes from the whistle, his first in the Premier League.

2006-04-05

Arsenal is in the Semi-Finals!

This result means a lot to every Arsenal supporter and to the institution. The city of Turin saw the Gunners reach the semifinals of the Champions League for the first time, after getting a 0-0 tie against Juventus.

The London team got the pass because of the result of the first leg with the Italian squad. That match finished with a 2-0 victory for Wenger's side.

"We really did everything possible and played at a great level, but the 2-0 from the first leg was too difficult to recover," Juventus boss Fabio Capello said. "We could not have done any better at this stage of the season."

In fact, Arsenal had a pair of chances in the second half, but goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon stopped shots from Thierry Henry and Cesc Fabregas - the scorers in the first leg. Juventus' Pavel Nedved was ejected in the 77th minute when he got his second yellow card for a rough foul on Emmanuel Eboue.

Now Thierry Henry and his teammates will face Villarreal in the semi-finals. After all, this may be the most important year in Arsenal's history.