Archive for May 5th, 2009

It’s up for grabs now…

1 comment May 5th, 2009

Twenty years ago, Arsenal travelled to Anfield on the final day of their season, knowing that a 2-0 victory would make them Champions of England.  There then unfurled a night that turned one match into myth, and eleven players into legends.

Tonight is similarly make-or-break.  Whilst there isn’t a trophy at stake, the prize of a Champions League Final is of enormous value, and a 2-0 win over Manchester United will see us taking to the field on the 27th May in Rome.  Were we to go on and prosper in Italy, we would script a tale that would make Anfield ’89 feel like a gentle plot from Last of The Summer Wine.

This group of players are somewhat unlikely heroes.  Indeed, as Arsene puts it:

“If I had said in November, we will be in the semi-finals of the Champions League and the FA Cup, and go 21 [Premier League] games unbeaten, you would have called an ambulance.”

And I can’t help but feel that being “super-outsiders”, aa Arsene has called us, is somehow beneficial.  Having had such a calamitous first half to the season, and indeed such a horrendous performance in the first leg of this tie, we find ourselves still in with a shot at glory.  We’re neither the tortoise nor the hare – we’re a little rodenty thing that awoke from hibernation and found it itself a couple of steps from the finishing line in a race it didn’t even know it was taking part in.

We have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.  And whilst failing to gain everything could hurt, the point remains that we ought to go out and play without fear.  The defence passed around a handgun and played Russian Roulette at Old Trafford, and they all (just about) survived.  We’ve been gifted that rarest of things: a second chance, and I have absolute faith that our players will do their utmost to capitalise upon that this evening.

The team almost picks itself.  Manuel Almunia will play in goal with Kieran Gibbs and Bacary Sagna in the full-back positions.  Mikael Silvestre is in the squad but with doubts over his fitness I suspect Johan Djourou is the more likely partner for Kolo Toure.  Cesc Fabregas will be partnered by Alex Song, with Samir Nasri and Theo Walcott the most likely wingers – though never rule out Abou Diaby: the man who gets picked inappropriately more often than a scab.  Upfront, Robin van Persie’s return could be crucial, and he will partner Emmanuel Adebayor.

Everybody needs to have a big game tonight – that ought to go without saying.  It’s going to have to be a mighty performance to overturn United’s one goal advantage, but it is certainly possible.  Peversely, on a night when we need to score to stay in the competition, the most important thing is keeping a clean sheet early on.  If we were to lose the first goal it’d give us a hell of a mountain to climb.

We can score twice.  We managed it in this very fixture back in November.

I have heard the Emirates Stadium called soulless.  That is because the great moments that define stadiums have yet to occur at our beautiful new ground.  Tonight is the biggest game the stadium has ever witnessed, and a little piece of Arsenal-related history could be made.  If you’re going to be at the game this evening, scream your heart out for The Arsenal, so your mindless abuse of Wayne Rooney might reverberate throughout history long after you have gone.

Tonight everyone associated with Arsenal Football Club has the chance to be part of something fantastic, and share in a joyous and momentous celebration of our club’s values.  But sod that all that: we have the chance to make Cristiano Ronaldo cry.

Like Arsene Wenger, I am peculiarly optimistic.  Whether we go through or not, I’m confident we’ll go out with all guns blazing.  And if enough guns blaze in the direction of Edwin Van Der Sar’s goal, then you never know.  You just never know.

Ring the alarum bell.  It’s here.  And it’s time for some of these Arsenal boys to become men.





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