09 March 2006

Best. 0-0 draw. Ever.

Because ESPN are crap, there was no point to trying to catch the match live (at least that I could find, in Indy). So I 'watched' the match online. via online updates and most of all Big Soccer. Which was a completely bizarre experience. There I was, sitting in my little cube, with the sounds of commerce and HVAC all around. And my guts are in a knot because of some lines of text flowing across my screen... and a soccer match being played 3,000+ miles away.

But anyway, what a fantastic match. ESPN2 did finally broadcast it, last night at 12:30AM. Of course they had to delay the start for 10 minutes, so my Tivo missed the last 5 minutes of the match, because ESPN are crap, as I have mentioned. I haven't watched much of it yet but have read everything I can about it. I'll do an analysis of the match later, after seeing it all. For now, just a couple comments about the result.

First of all, what a huge night for Arsenal. Even were we to go out in the next round, it's still a huge achievement to take out the Galacticos. The 1-0 win in the Bernabeu was an historic night for the Gunners, and yesterday became a wonderful memory for the last months of Highbury. There will be at least one more European night in the old stadium, and here's to another wonderful memory for that. But there's something special about inviting Real Madrid over to your house. What better than to have Beckham, Zidane, Raul, Ronaldo, et al over to take a last run at The Home Of Football, not for a farewell friendly, but for a real war of a match. And then taking the result.

I think it's also a huge night for the team in many ways. First, the two legs of this tie have really marked a point where the young Gunners have marked their intentions on the largest possible stage. We have had rough patches, and there are probably more to come. But this kind of game shows what Arsenal can become -- to the world, but more importantly to the Gunners themselves. Hleb, Toure, Fabregas, Senderos, Eboue, Flamini... all had outstanding games. That can only build their belief in themselves, and feed their hunger for more.

But it was also a big night for the old guard. Come what may, it is fantastic to see legends like Ljungberg, Gilberto, Pires, and Bergkamp fighting desperately for the colors. And Thierry Henry. If his ambition is truly to win the Champions League, this tie can only have taught him that Arsenal have every ability to match his ambition. No matter where you play, there is no guarantee of success; there are just too many good teams in Europe. But Arsenal on their night can be a match for any of them, and in particular are well positioned to take on the continent's best.

And speaking of... the next stages will prove to be interesting. Who will we play? The remaining teams make an amazing list: AC Milan. Barcelona. Benfica. Lyon. Juventus. Villareal. And either Inter or Ajax. We will find out tomorrow who we face. Some are hoping for one of the less-famous teams; others wish for Juventus and a faceoff with our old friend Patrick Viera. Personally, I would wish for Barcelona. They're the clear favorites in the field right now, and would present an immense challenge to the Gunners. But I think the team can respond to that challenge and rise to the occasion.

And don't forget: Arsenal are on that list too. And this performance will make any of those teams take notice.

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