Tuesday, March 28, 2006

UEFA: Arsenal 2 - 0 Juventus

What a treat! The next round UEFA Champions League have begun, and my Arsenal is in the mix.

Yesterday I was able to watch the Benfica 0-0 Barcelona match live on ESPN2 and listen (for free) to the Arsenal 2-0 Juventus match on my RealPlayer.

Juventus, the grand dame of Italian football, is a powerhouse from Turin. I have seen them play against (and beat) AC Milan in the past; and Arsenal's former captain, Patrick Viera, is now with Juve.

Arsenal skipper Arsene Wenger has a storied career as a coach and manager, and has assembled a remarkable squad in North London. Many criticize him for hiring so many non-English players; but he does not hire based on nationality, he hires based on talent and ability to fit into his gameplan. He was roundly criticized last year for allowing Viera (considered by many to be the world's best midfielder) to leave for Turin; but one only need look at the remaining squad to see a brilliant future in their new home at Ashburton Grove.

Thierry Henry, arguably one of the top three players in the world. Robert Pires, a brilliant midfielder who has been a scoring machine for Arsenal. Freddie Ljungberg, one of Europe's greatest all-around athletes (with a body and soul to math the reputation) and the currently the world's sexiest athlete. Denis Bergkamp, the intense hard-playing Dutch master. Jose Antonio Reyes, the maturing Spanish striker. Brazilian journeyman Gilberto. And the youngsters: Cesc Fabregas, Mathieu Flamini and Robin vanPersie. Add English international defenders Ashley Cole and Sol Campbell, newcomers Alexander Hleb, Alexandre Song and Abou Diaby. Throw in a defense that includes Lauren, Kolo Toure, Emanuel Eboue and Phillipe Senderos. Germany's back-up International goalkeeper Jens Lehmann in the box. Now you can overlook the presence of Pascal Cygan.

When Wenger received his OBE, the Queen's statement included this remark:
Arsene Wenger is regarded as one of a breed of 'educated' soccer managers. . . . Manchester United's Sir Alec Ferguson is reputed to call him 'the professor.'

Having plowed through Real Madrid in the last Round of Champions League competitions, I still was not confident that Arsenal could prevail, at home, against the likes of Juventus. You see, Arsenal has not fared well in international competitions over the years, and I have no reason to think this year will be different.

Except that this year is different. The Gunners have not allowed a goal at Highbury in the last seven international matches! And after enjoying years of winning or being runner-up in the English Premier League, this year's Arsenal squad is languishing in sixth place, with only eight games remaining to make-up the fur points needed to pass North London-rival Tottenham and take fourth place to clinch a spot in next year's Champions League competition. It's odd: years of domestic success and international failure, followed by this year's international success and domestic failure.

Yesterday's match again Juventus was wonderful to follow. Although the Italians seemed to control the ball for the majority of time, Arsenal pushed and pushed and pushed. With Robert Pires making short order of Patrick Viera, and Juve's squad missing international stars Alessandro Del Piero and Pavel Nedvěd, the tone of the match was all Arsenal early on.

Goals from Thierry Henry and Cesc Fabregas, and a near-miss by Henry shortly thereafter, seemed to infuriate the Italians, and as the match wore to the end, cards started flying. Viera received a yellow, making him ineligible for next week's return match in Turin; and both Mauro Camoranesi and Jonathan Zebina were dismissed with red cards in the last three minutes, making them also ineligible for next week's match.

Juventus must beat Arsenal next week by three goals to move forward in the competition, and a single goal by the Gunners next week might put advancement to the next round completely out of reach for Juve. Things look good for Arsenal, and I pray that yesterday's excellent showing is followed-up with a solid showing in Italy.

For a recap of the match, see the match report at uefa.com.

Freddie Ljungberg
Arsenal Midfielder and
international Calvin Klein model

Nicked from origo.hu

Thierry Henry and Patrick Viera
Nicked from robertofrankenberg.com

Cesc Fabregas with Thierry Henry
Nicked from aftenposten.no

(Images used without permission)

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Thierry Henry and Dennis Berkamp

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