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.