March 7, 2012
Sometimes the result is not the most important thing.
I know that as a fanbase we tend to bleat about lack of trophies (although not anywhere near as much as the media do on our behalf, obviously). We were desperate to pick up the Carling Cup last season but why? Because we wanted to own an oversized three handled metal drinking vessel? Did we have some dire crockery shortage that needed an immediate solution? No, we wanted to win it to shut the media up and to restore a sense of pride in this club. Well we may not be about to win any trophies this season, and the chances are we’ll never stop the media from knocking us, but last night we managed to restore our pride anyway.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a performance quite like our first half yesterday. The players came out pumped up and ready. They played with heart and desire and speed and tenacity and Milan didn’t have a clue what was going on. What had happened to that puppy dog of a team from a fortnight ago that turned up at the San Siro and promptly rolled over to have its belly tickled? We took the game to Milan and they didn’t like it one bit.
When Laurent Koscielny stole in unmarked to nod home Oxlade-Chamberlain’s brilliantly struck corner kick after just seven minutes it was enough to make you wonder, if only very briefly, if maybe, just maybe there was an inkling of a possibility that we could make a game of it. When Theo Walcott’s ball from the right was turned into the path of Tomas Rosicky who promptly sidefooted home at the near post those inkings were vocalised. Strangers at the Emirates turned to each other and started murmuring. This isn’t on is it? Surely this couldn’t happen?
But when The Ox burst into the box and nudged the ball between Mesbah and Nocerino only to find himself the meat in their sandwich, and when the abject referee Skomina took what seemed like a minute and a half to decide he was going to point to the spot, and when Robin Van Persie stepped up and ignored the gamesmanship of the opposition and placed the ball, and then re-placed the ball on the penalty spot and drove it into the back of the net and the crowd erupted, inklings and murmurs turned to insistence and belief. We could do this. We could actually do this. We could pull off the greatest comeback in Champions League history.
I mean the fact that we didn’t is neither here nor there right?
Okay, so it was a massive disappointment that we couldn’t finish the job but frankly we’d given so much in that first half I think we just ran out of puff. The one big regret is that attempted chip by Van Persie, latching on to the rebound from Gervinho’s shot it seemed that all the maestro had to do was blast it home. He opted for delicacy. It was the wrong option. But what are we going to do? Sit around bitching about Van Persie for only having notched 32 goals so far this season?
It’s the first time I can remember thinking there’s absolutely no way the players could have given any more. They looked dead on their feet by the end of that match. And we just didn’t have the options on the bench to offer something fresh, particularly in the midfield. Rosicky and Oxlade-Chamberlain had been outstanding. The former has been showing the form in the last couple of games that we’ve been waiting for since he joined the club. It would be particularly ironic if this turns out to be his last season here. He may have infuriated with the odd misplaced pass but the drive and movement he brought to the middle of the park yesterday was a massive factor in our performance.
Oxlade meanwhile showed enough to suggest that his future in this team could well lie in the midfield. He didn’t quite have the fitness to make his mark in the second half but that’s understandable playing in a deep lying role for the first time in a senior competition in such a high profile match as this one. The quality of his corners alone suggest that he could add an extra ten goals a season to this side. The incision of his play through the middle will give lesser teams than Milan a torrid time in the next few seasons.
It’s worth mentioning the atmosphere last night which was absolutely electric. It’s long been said that what that stadium needs is to see a bit of glory – some big European nights, some trophy wins. It needs to soak those matches into its foundations. It needs to take on some personality. Last night will have gone a long way towards that. As much as the team have come under criticism this season, so have the fans but it’s unfair to blame fans for failing to get excited about limp performances. Last night proved that it’s a symbiotic relationship. When the players show real heart the crowd can feel that. They’re not stupid. They get it. It lifts them and they’re vocal and that in turn lifts the team and that’s how performances like last night occur. That’s how you come close to working miracles.
Le Boss said:
We gave a good performance tonight and we are disappointed because we touched qualification. We had the chances and we didn’t do it, but we were very close. I felt that we suffered a bit in the second half physically because we gave a lot at Liverpool. Overall I feel we didn’t have many options on the bench in midfield and in the second half we had more problems keeping the ball than in the first half. When we tired in midfield we had no options on the bench and the regret I have is there. The players put in a faultless performance, with fantastic spirit and you can only congratulate the whole team.
He was less complimentary about the referee and the Italians’ response to his performance:
I was not happy with the referee tonight because I felt he gave many free kicks in the middle of the park. Every time [MIlan's players] went down a free kick was given to them, and they sensed that very quickly and used it very well.
I’ll say. Last night we were not only battling a four goal deficit but a terrible referee who continually bought the writhing antics of some pathetic Milan players. On a night of such footballing guts it was disappointing to see. They went over to celebrate with their fans at the final whistle but I’d like to think they felt at least somewhat sheepish and embarrassed by their display.
Apart from the heart we showed the other positive of the night is that we keep our winning run going and now we can concentrate on the league. Eleven games to go and although the players will be disappointed with the result overall there’s so much for them to take from beating the Serie A leaders by three goals to nothing. It’s a case of realising what this team is capable of and rediscovering the fire in our bellies.
I loved watching Pat Rice in that second half pacing, screaming and cajoling from his technical area, Arsene Wenger coming out intermittently to do the same. It was a sign of life on that bench that we haven’t seen for most of this season. And it was reflected on the pitch and in the crowd.
Guts and passion.
And a restoration of pride.
By the way, apologies for the lack of blog yesterday. I was left without internet for the entire day due to technical issues. I know, imagine the horror. Still, technicians have been called, wires have been prodded, switches flicked and normal service has (hopefully) been restored.
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