Champions’ League: Arsenal 2 – Juventus 0

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Football
March 29th, 2006 • 8:47 am

Well, well, well… This is becoming quite exciting for Arsenal fans! The victory at the Bernabéu and the elimination of Real Madrid were impressive, but Juventus was supposed to be something else altogether.

After this very convincing victory at Highbury last night, it might be time to wonder whether this Arsenal team does not indeed have what it takes to go all the way… There’s still a lot to accomplish, of course, but I think it’s quite clear that there are both confidence and a spirit of adventure running through this team that definitely were not there in previous Champions’ League campaigns.

Until recently, there was constant talk of the Gunners having some kind of psychological block in Europe that prevented them from asserting themselves as they did in the Premiership. After last night’s game, there are reasons to believe that, if this psychological block ever existed, former Arsenal captain Patrick Vieira was one of its main victims.

He is now playing for Juve, and his “return” to Highbury was a highly anticipated affair. Would he come back to haunt the Gunners, or would the new Arsenal midfield, with Cesc Fábregas at its core, teach him a lesson about commitment and skill?

The headlines today provide the answer: “Fábregas overshadows Vieira’s return, “Fábregas and Henry humble Juventus,” etc.

It was, once again, a terrific game for the entire Arsenal team and especially for Fábregas and Henry. It was also not long ago that people were accusing Thierry Henry of being unable to deliver in the “big games.” Well, once again, he delivered, with a well-taken goal and numerous bursts of pace that forced the Juventus players to repeatedly foul him and ultimately led to a humiliating disciplinary record for the Juventus team: nearly three times as many fouls, four yellow cards, and two red cards in the dying moments of the game.

Once again, Reyes too was terrific and played a big part in frustrating the Juventus defence and in causing that disciplinary record. Hleb only had an OK game this time, but I felt that Robert Pires was absolutely fantastic and one of the unsung heroes of the night. It was his terrific tackle on Patrick Vieira (of all people) that led to the first goal, and he was excellent throughout the game.

Kolo Touré was once again a towering figure at the centre of the defence and helped alleviate the occasional shortcomings of Senderos and Gilberto. Flamini did an excellent job again and might end up losing his “make-shift” tag as a left-back if this keeps up! And Éboué was very impressive once again.

Lehmann had almost nothing to do, and should certainly expect to have more work next week in Turin.

Overall, it was once again a fantastic European night at Highbury, and there are now good reasons to believe that it will not be the last one. Turin will have a number of players suspended in the return leg, including Patrick Vieira (although Nedved will be back), and if the Gunners can play as well as they have in the past few Champions’ League games, they should be able to make it to the semi-finals for the first time in the history of the club.

And after that I would say that all bets are off. It should of course still be a high priority for the Gunners to snatch that fourth spot in the Premiership from Spurs, who were very fortunate to get all three points against West Brom on Sunday. But already this last quarter of the season is proving to be a major turnaround for Arsenal, and there are many reasons to be excited again about this new Arsenal team.

The shadow of Thierry Henry’s indecision regarding his future still looms, of course, but I think it’s fair to say that it hasn’t affected his present commitment to the club one bit, and fortunately the other players in the team don’t seem to have let it affect their own performances.

So, will this be the year? There is still a lot to do, but it looks like this new young team has finally hit its stride, and with a bit of luck and lots of commitment, anything is possible! (By “luck,” I mean mostly good referees, like M. Frojdfeldt last night, who don’t let teams like Juventus get away with constant cynical fouling.)

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