Arsenal always seem to try and do things the hard way, but I think that playing with 10 men for 73 minutes against arguably the best team in the world might be stretching things a bit far.
However, despite the result, there can be no doubt that we came out of the Champions League final with a great deal of credit and respect and quite rightly so.
For the first 5 minutes of the game, we were all over Barcelona’s bewildered defence, with Thierry having one or two very good chances. Barcelona then came back into the game and Ronaldinho’s superb defence-splitting pass to Eto’o deserved to be finished off with a goal, rather than the disappointing sending off which it received and which irrevocably changed the game. What followed for the next 85 minutes was undoubtedly one of the best all-round performances any Arsenal team has produced.
Sometimes – quite often in fact – Arsenal need to be galvanised into a team by events that appear to go against us, and this was one of those occasions. Once the unfortunate Jens had left the pitch, a never-say-die attitude spread through the side like wildfire and only threatened to wane once the inevitable happened and the Catalan giants eventually managed to breach the most resolute of defences.
On a night like this it’s difficult to pick out individuals who made their mark more than others, but for me there were 4 players who epitomised the spirit that almost saw us through to what would have been an incredible victory.
Kolo Toure was the popular choice amongst many fans for Man of the Match. He seemed to get in front of every shot that the team with the extra man could muster as well as bringing the ball forward at every opportunity. In my opinion he should be given TA’s number 6 shirt and, if Thierry wasn’t around, the captaincy. He was massive in this game and the scoreline could have embarrassed us if it weren’t for him.
Freddie Ljungberg and Alexander Hleb must have covered more grass than anyone in this game. Particularly Freddie, who just seemed to run and run all night, consistently beating Oluguer at right back who, despite having little or no defending to do for most of the night, still seemed a yard or 15 short of Freddie’s pace. Hleb seems to relish the Champions League and was also full of running until the end. True, his defender was the less than capable Arsenal reject, Van Bronckhorst, but he was superb tonight.
Thierry Henry doesn’t need any more plaudits or thanks from Arsenal fans, but he was superb tonight. He ran all night and was visibly exhausted at the end. He was still beating Barcelona’s pedestrian full backs as the game drew to an end and, but for a tired shot which was saved by Valdes, could have won us the game. He will never forget that miss, but he knows that no-one blames him for it and his decision to stay at Arsenal for another 4 years means that somehow we have to find a way to love this man even more than we already do!
But in truth, the whole team were superb in Paris, and the ovation they all got at the end showed what a truly superb bunch of supporters we have. I left the Stade De France feeling exhausted, gutted but so proud of their efforts, and that’s all I could have asked before the game.
One final thanks go to Sol Campbell for giving me one of the most memorable moments of my entire life when he headed us into the lead. There is only one word to describe the scenes after the ball hit the back of the net and that is pandemonium.
All in all, Paris was a superb trip. We may not have got the result we wanted, or possibly even deserved but we gave a superb account of ourselves and came away with our heads held high. Now that Thierry has signed his contract, and there is a signing or two in the pipeline, things are definitely looking up for the first season at Ashburton Grove.