Thursday, 17 February 2011

Oh What A Night

Arsenal shocked the football world last night, coming from behind to beat Barcelona 2-1 at the Emirates in the first leg of the first round of the knock-out stages in the Champions League. It was the match that everyone wanted and thankfully it was my side that came out on top, recording a historic victory in what was an absolute classic.

I was at the pub early to get a good seat for the game and the place was a madhouse, absolutely packed (thankfully, the majority of spectators seemed to be fellow Gooners). In fact it was so busy I didn't get my food which I ordered at 7 until kickoff began. Whilst enjoying a burger, the Gunners started brightly, nearly taking an early lead after 5 minutes or so. Fabregas looped a ball over the Barca defence into the path of van Persie, who volleyed from a tight angle right at Victor Valdes. So close, but a promising start. However it didn't take long for the Catalans to show just how dangerous they could be when Messi narrowly missed putting his side in front after 15 minutes. A David Villa pass put Messi in the clear but his chipped shot was inches wide. A huge sigh of relief could be heard around the Emirates and in the pub - Arsenal had dodged a bullet, as Messi usually converts those sort of chances 99% of the time. Moments later the Gunners were on the attack again when Walcott's pass split the Barca defence and put Fabregas into a great position, whose cross for the diving van Persie was just narrowly cut out by Abidal. But seconds later the Emirates was stunned. Messi played a beautiful through ball between Djourou and Clichy into David Villa, who made no mistake dispatching the ball underneath Szczesny to make it 1-0 Barca. Things almost went from bad to worse when seconds later Szczesny made a great save from Pedro that could have buried Arsenal completely. Luckily the Gunners didn't crumble and immediately replied when Wilshere played in van Persie with a beautiful pass, which the Dutchman really should have converted (he sliced his left foot shot badly). The game was frantic now, end to end stuff, but again Barca showed just how lethal they could be; after picking his way through our defence Messi played in Pedro who looked certain to score, but Szczesny did well again, making a fantastic save to deny the Spaniards a second goal. Messi bundled the rebound in but thankfully he was judged to be offside (although he probably wasn't). Before I knew it the half time whistle was blown, 45 minutes gone just like that.

Arsenal started the second half just as they did the first, looking dangerous and attacking with speed but still struggling to carve out a clear goal scoring opportunity. Then after 67 minutes Messi nearly put the game beyond doubt. After Eboue failed to clear, Iniesta put Messi in to make it 2-0 but the Argentinian star could only hit the side netting. But wasteful Barca were soon made to pay for not converting their chances. After Messi failed to score, Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola brought on the defensive Seydou Keita for David Villa, in an effort to shore up the defence and hold on to their lead. Wenger made a substitution also, bringing on Arshavin for Song, a change that would prove critical. With Barcelona now sitting back (well, not quite, they are Barcelona after all!) Arsenal went all out to claw themselves back into the game and in the 78th minute the North London side struck. After some work down the left flank between Arshavin and Clichy, the Frenchman chipped the ball over Gerard Pique into van Persie's path who smashed the ball past Valdes from the tightest of angles. When everyone watching expected a cross, including Valdes, the Dutch magician squeezed home the most accurate shot you are likely to see in a long time to make it 1-1, and game on. It just had to be van Persie, my favourite player in recent times, that made the difference - a phenomenal moment. The Emirates and the pub erupted (I hurt my voice-box from shouting) and it wasn't long until things got even better. Five minutes later, after Koscielny intercepted what could have been an extremely dangerous Barca pass, El Capitan, Barcelona's favourite Gunner Cesc Fabregas, played an incredible ball across half the pitch that split the Spaniard's defence wide open, releasing Nasri. Instead of opting to shoot, Nasri cut the ball back and played it across the penalty box to Arshavin, who stylishly clipped the ball around the Barca defenders and past Valdes to make it 2-1 and send every Arsenal fan in the world into total euphoria. Within five minutes Arsene Wenger's men had come back against the best team in the world to take the lead. Incredible stuff. Arsenal managed to hold on for the win, but not without some panic when Szczesny saved well from Dani Alves, then Arshavin's attempt at nodding the ball back to Szczesny was almost intercepted and converted by Alves, before finally Eboue cleared the ball with an almighty hoof into Row Z. The final whistle blew seconds later and Arsenal had done it, completed the impossible task of knocking the Catalan giants off their perch, taking a 2-1 advantage into the second leg. Now obviously the tie is only half-way complete, there is still the daunting prospect of facing Barca again at the Camp Nou, but this win will provide the team with a massive psychological boost heading into that game, and hopefully for the rest of the season. Because last night proved, that above all, when Arsenal play at their best, they can beat the best teams in the world. What a classic.

I can't really fault any of our players after the performance they gave as team. Jack Wilshere raised his game on the biggest stage of all and was easily the man of the match for me. He consistently turned and rolled away from the opposition's attempts to dispossess him but he was always aware, eyes up constantly looking for a teammate. A fantastic game for our English prodigy, proving to the masses that he's not just 'one for the future', but he's performing right now. I think credit must also go to Laurent Koscielny who had a wonderful night in defence considering who he was up against. By no means did he have Messi in his back-pocket, but I reckon that Koscielny probably gave the Argentinian the hardest game he's had for some time, and Kos managed to keep Lionel from reeking too much havoc against us. A classy game from the Frenchman and a big "fuck you" to the critics who doubt his ability at this level.

Things got even better this morning (I know what you're saying, "How on earth could things be better?!") when I saw that my Cavaliers had handed the World Champion Lakers their third defeat in a row, recording a momentous win heading into the All-Star break, beating Los Angeles 104-99. Ramon Sessions was a beast, attacking the rim at will, and ended up recording 32 points and 8 assists. Sweet revenge against Kobe and his boys since the last time we played L.A. A memorable win for sure and it deserves a picture of course!

Anyway, I've got a lot of uni work coming up soon so I'll blog what I can when I can. If you've made it this far through this essay of a post, thank you very much for reading!

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