Champions’ League: Juventus 0 – Arsenal 0

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Football
April 6th, 2006 • 8:13 am

The job is done. Arsenal is in the semi-finals of the Champions’ League for the first time in the history of the club. And they have now gone eight consecutive games in the competition without conceding a goal, which is a record.

It certainly was not a particularly enjoyable game, from the point of view of the neutrals or even from the point of view of Arsenal fans. In that respect, the 0-0 draw against Real Madrid at Highbury was much more spectacular and entertaining. Here, there were very few real opportunities for either side, and it was effectively one of these boring Champions’ League ties that we have become quite familiar with in recent times, especially with FC Porto and Liverpool and the Italian teams dominating the competition.

But effectively the victory was sealed in the first leg at Highbury, which was a spectacular encounter. So you cannot really blame Arsenal for not providing that bit of magic that makes the competition exciting. And you certainly cannot say that they do not deserve to be where they are now.

They have, after all, managed to eliminate both Real Madrid and Juventus from the competition. It’s no small feat, even if both the Spaniards and the Italians are declining teams with aging players. Even declining teams are always capable of flashes of brilliance, and it takes a special team of young, relatively inexperienced players to achieve what the Gunners have managed to do.

But in truth Juventus never did display the quality that would have reminded us of how great a team they are. On the contrary, their players became far too easily frustrated by the constant offside calls and the lack of opportunities. Nedved was deservedly sent off for a couple of idiotic tackles in the second half, and Ibrahimovic was deservedly booed late in the game by his own fans when he failed to chase a ball that Touré was able to retrieve in the corner all by himself, and then completely missed was looked like a pretty simple pass. It was quite an embarrassing moment for him, and you do wonder about his future at the club. (Supposedly Arsenal was going to sign him some years back but Wenger requested a trial, which the Swede refused to comply with. In retrospect, it seems that it was not such a bad turn of events.)

What about the performance of the Arsenal players? Well, it wasn’t quite as convincing as in the previous Champions’ League games. Lehmann did pull off a couple of great saves, which confirms his current form and his key role in this particular campaign. But the inexperience of players like Flamini and Éboué was exposed on occasion, and Flamini in particular was perhaps a bit fortunate not to have been sent off for a couple of bookable offences.

Gilberto did concede possession a bit too often, as he tends to do, and the wide mid-fielders Ljunberg and Hleb didn’t really have a big impact, although Hleb did get one of the best opportunities of the game. Reyes was his usual frustrating self, with a mix of brilliance and theatrics that cost him a yellow card (meaning a suspension for the next CL game) and an early substitution. The substitute Robert Pires didn’t have much of an impact either.

All eyes were on Cesc Fábregas after his excellent performances in recent games, and he did not disappoint, even though he was still recovering from a slight foot injury and was maybe not as influential as previously. Thierry Henry didn’t get the away goal that would have sealed the tie, but still provided a few bursts of speed that did cause some panic in the Juventus defence. And the central defence of Touré and Senderos was strong as usual.

It was an unspectacular but solid performance, against a Juventus team that was surprisingly slow to attack and didn’t really press nearly as much as they said they were going to.

So what now? A semi-final against the real surprise of the competition, Villareal, with the first leg at Highbury and the second leg in Spain. Can Arsenal do it? And can they actually win the competition?

Sure they can. With the elimination of Real Madrid and Juventus, they have shown that they can actually cope with the traditional “big” teams of Europe. If they manage to eliminate Villareal, they will meet another one in the final in Paris. If it’s Milan AC, it will be another case of youth vs. experience. If it’s Barcelona, well, there could be fireworks.

But first, the small-town Spaniards… It’s hard to know what to think. They are not a particularly spectacular team, but if they’ve managed to get this far in the competition, it is not a coincidence. They have a great playmaker in Riquelme, and Forlan has actually become a dangerous striker over there in Spain, after a couple of disappointing seasons with Manchester United.

Still, they are not big scorers, and Arsenal fans should certainly feel that their team has a good chance of reaching the final. But there can be no complacency, and if the Gunners get the chance to kill the tie in London in the first leg, they will have to take that chance. Reyes will be suspended and Kolo Touré will have to be careful not to get another booking, but other than that it will be a full-strength squad, provided that no nasty injuries occur between now and the second half of April.

Next up… Manchester United at Old Trafford! We don’t really want to do Chelsea any favours in the league, but we do need the points to consolidate our own position, so it will be another fiercely contested match, and hopefully a better game than the disappointing 0-0 draw at Highbury earlier in the season.

2 Responses to “Champions’ League: Juventus 0 – Arsenal 0”

  1. Andrew Aitken says:

    Well done to Arsenal, they have finally shown their skills in Europe. It was always surprising they never did well before, these are the sort of performances I would have expected from a good team like Arsenal.

    I think they have every chance of reaching the final, but I’m not sure if they can win the whole thing. Then again I didn’t think Liverpool could win it last year!

    It should be a good match on Sunday, I will be at Old Trafford and hoping for the Man U win! It’s a long shot for us to catch Chelsea, but even getting within a point or two of them will be a big boost for next season.

  2. Pierre Igot says:

    No doubt that there is still lots to do to win the trophy, but a Barcelona – Arsenal final would be a rather mouth-watering prospect :).

    As for Sunday, well, let’s just hope it’s an enjoyable game.

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