A Lesson in Total Football

Arsenal are out of the Champions League. After a relatively anti climatic 3-1 win by Man Utd. (4-1 Agg.), people will start to wonder exactly what is next for the once unstoppable Wenger. Arsenal fans annoy me, a lot. Wenger is undoubtedly one of the U.K’s great football imports, and the only main rival to the mastery of Ferguson since the re branded top flight began. Yet another season without silverware, that final champions league spot was in danger of not being filled by a ‘top four’ for the second time in the past 3 years. It was Liverpool then, being displaced by Everton…yet they sacrificed their league position for a Champions League trophy. Pundits on tonights ITV coverage talked of how Arsenal have fought back against Villa to basically regain fourth spot in the league, as if it were an achievement, albeit one on a different level of the three clubs sitting above Arsenal as we speak.

Tonight Arsenal were met with Man Utd, the champions League holders, who guaranteed their place in the final for the first ever defence of the European Cup since it’s been named the Champions League. The neat passing and sublime skill of a team capable of beautiful football, were silenced early on by Park. Then came a frighteningly quick free kick from Ronaldo, who then contributed another goal which epitomised Utd this year. If last year they were the worlds best team, then surely nobody told them as they only get better and better. With all the media circus surrounding Ronaldo in the summer and his slow start due to injury, critics have hushed the superlatives. With the arrogance of Ali in his prime, he scored his ‘best ever goal’ a few weeks ago against Porto, then two more equally outstanding efforts this evening, he is seemingly getting only better and better. Todays Guardian revealed Utd’s plans to use the money from the release of Ronaldo to pay for Ribery in the transfer window this coming summer. With the conquest of an unprecedented 5 trophies being ruined at the hands of Everton a few weeks ago, the unthinkable challenge for 5 trophies next year can start to become a reality. After tonights display, getting rid of Ronaldo is not on Fergusons mind at all.

I still can’t think if last years Champions League final without cringing slightly. As a lifelong Chelsea fan, everything was perfect. John Terry stood up to take the 5th penalty, Mr Chelsea to win it for the blues. But thats history.
Arsenal fans love Barcelona. They are Arsenal in 4 years time, when the youngsters have come good. And they, like the rest of the football loving nation, were outspoken in condemning Chelsea for parking the bus in front of their three pronged attack. The terms ‘bully boys’ and ‘anti-football’ have been thrown around. The reality is, that Barca have possibly the most dangerous attacking force in the world. The three strikers have more goals between them than the entire Chelsea contingent this season, but then again, they do play in La Liga.

The modern game requires tactics for two legs of football, which doesn’t necessarily make for a spectacle. Yet it is not a coincidence that there have been 3 English teams in the semi finals of the Champions League this year and last. Barcelona complained about the physicality of Chelsea last week, but that is the truth of the Premier League…which is now considered the best league in the world.

You can’t gauge much from press conferences. Yet Barca, depsite their anger at not being able to score last week in front of their fans, seem content and confident. Chelsea seem worryingly defensive with their tactics, which I’m hoping doesn’t rub off tomorrow. Adding to my doubts is every sodding pundit, even Fergie, saying Chelsea will go through to the final. If Barca win, we will have possibly one of the greatest finals ever, with the two greatest teams of recent years going head to head. Both with scarily dangerous attackers, and the possibility of the two greatest players in the world – Ronaldo and Messi – squaring up. Worryingly, everything in my head points to this final, a box office classic… And tomorrow is Man U v Arsenal 2.0. Utd fans are hoping for Chelsea, because the prospect of Barca means that the possibility of the silverware that more difficult…and Arsenal, like the rest of the neutrals, are for Barca, the team they try so tirelessly to emulate. Yet Chelsea have world class talent to fill every position. Even Drogba, who divides opinion – even mine when he went one step too far in last years final – is pummeling through defences and finishing with touches of audaciousness.

My prediction is Barca to nick it, and face Man U later this month. But I’m just saying that not to Jinx it…..COME ON YOU BLUES!!

(Disclaimer – Not own images)

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