Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Arsenal - Defeated and Deflated

When Arsenal exited the Champion's League last year, it was the Quarterfinals and Liverpool had just stolen victory back from us in a wild match that dealt Arsenal a cruel blow in the final six minutes to leave me feeling gutted.

Last night's Champion's League Semifinal against Manchester United felt like it was over in the first six minutes.
It actually took seven for the first United goal.

Despite trailing United by one goal from the first leg, I believed we could summon the strength and character to give them a real fight.
Almunia's heroics at Old Trafford kept us alive and I was thinking there could be something really special and really big yet to come from Arsenal's "kids."
We started strong, with an unusually boisterous home crowd behind the team in full force.
For a moment, watching Arsenal zip the ball around in United's half, it all felt possible.
Then Anderson squeezed a ball upfield, a ball that Ronaldo chased down into our area.
And then, in what can only be described as a a tragic accident for poor Kieran Gibbs, our baby-faced deputy defender slipped and fell in what should have been a routine interception of Ronaldo's pass, gifting Park Ji-sung the ball right in front of our goal.
Almunia charged and Park timed his shot perfectly.
And just like that, we were trailing by two goals on aggregate–one of them a devastating away goal, which meant we needed three to win.
Really, a shame for Gibbs and for the entire team.
But all was not lost.
Not yet.
The game would go on for another two minutes before the fatal blow.
Ronaldo flopped, earning a penalty kick from forty yards.
He launched a screamer that unbelievably rocketed right past Almunia for goal number three on aggregate.
With eighty minutes still to play, the game was over.
Arsenal was done.

This morning I'm still feeling hollow–stunned from the fact that we never had a chance.
It can only be said that over the two legs, Manchester United was the better team - head and shoulders over Arsenal.
It stinks but it's the truth.

I read this morning that an Arsenal fan in Kenya hung himself after the match.
All I can say is I'm grateful my life doesn't hang on this team.
Over the last few years, we've been fragile, both physically and mentally.

I credit Arsene and the team for their remarkable comeback this season, orchestrating a 21 game unbeaten run to overtake Villa and secure fourth place in the EPL and another season of Champion's League football.

But surely, fourth place can't be good enough.

It's a broken record at this point–we need to buy some experienced players this summer and I wouldn't mind offloading Adebayor if we can get a decent coin for him. He's dead weight and he's dragging us down.

And yes, Arsene needs to rethink the overall composition–we're built for the sprint, not the long haul.

We play for pride now.
Pride and revenge.
Chelsea this weekend and Manchester United again next weekend.

And I can only hope that Barcelona goes through tonight and a healthy Henry stars in a Champions League Final blowout that wipes that cocky smirk right off Ronaldo's face.

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