The way I see it – Manchester City v Arsenal

Last updated : 04 May 2006 By Jason Hogan
A fair bit of water has gone under the bridge since I last wrote just before the first leg of our Champions League semi against Villarreal. Overall, the tie turned out to be every bit as tight and every bit as difficult as I predicted in my last piece. But, even though we came in for a lot of stick from the press, the media and a lot of people outside of Highbury after the second leg in Spain, I defy anyone to tell me when an English side has ever made a Champions League/European Cup final without experiencing one or two scares along the way.

In any case, I honestly couldn't really give a toss what people outside of Highbury think of what we have achieved in the Champions League this season and how we have done. As an Arsenal fan it always pays to stick to what you know and I know that we are the first London club to EVER make the final of this competition. I also know that we have done it on the back of more clean sheets than any other has EVER kept in the history of the tournament. And, even if people want to quibble over the quality of the opposition we have faced then they certainly cannot argue with our consistency.

We have lost just once in 20 Champions League games and twice in 25. Show me another English or British side that can match that level of consistency. I don't think anyone in their right mind can honestly argue about the fact that we have finally found ourselves in the Champions League on the back of a record like that. We are there on merit and there isn't a man alive that is going to tell me any different.

So it's a case of Paris here we come – or at least it is for a lucky few. The allocation of tickets for the final is nothing short of joke. The last I heard was that Arsenal have been allocated just 23,000 tickets for the final. Assuming that Barca have been given the same allocation, it means that no less than 34,000 other tickets will end up in the hands of people who do not have any vested interest in the final at all. This cannot be right but then common sense and the body that is UEFA do not often mix.

Whilst we are in the final on merit, it also has to be said that our position in the league is also merited. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that our poorer relations happen to be above us in the table for the first time in a blue moon, it's purely down to the fact that we have lost 11 games and I honestly don't think a club deserves to finish in the top four having lost that many games.

As it was, we played our poorer relations from up the Seven Sisters Road in between the two games against the Yellow Submarine and I have to admit that the Tiny Totts were full value for the point they got and but for the belated yet nonetheless divine intervention from Henry, they would have come away with a victory that most neutral would have said they deserved.

I honestly had mixed feelings about THAT goal which gave them the lead on that afternoon. I'd be lying if I said that I was entirely happy over the way it all came about and after the game there was a part of me that wondered whether the press and the media would have been so quick to defend us in the same way the defended Jol, Davids and Carrick if things happened was the other way round. I think us Gooners all know the answer to that, don't we?

On the other hand, given that we were downright awful for the best part of an hour and they were by far the better side I suppose in a funny sort of way they deserved their piece. Maybe that's stretching things a little TOO far. I'll let you all make your own mind up about that.

With our poorer relations then going on to claim three undeserved points against Bolton last weekend, the heat was really on us by the time we got to the Stadium of Light on Monday.

I have to admit that I wasn't looking forward to this game too much. As usual we were in a no-win situation but what really made me really twitchy about this fixture was that Sunderland had failed to win at home all season and I couldn't help thinking that sods law would dictate that we were the ones to go there and get turned over.

As things turned out my fears were misplaced though the result was infinitely better than the performance. I thought we were downright awful from start to finish and I wasn't alone. I got a text from my good buddy Gazza at half time saying that we had been poor despite being 3-0 up. What he said matched what I was thinking that's for sure.

Even though the match itself was largely a drab, uninspiring affair there was little doubt about the talking point of the game. Abou Diaby fell victim of what was an absolutely scandalous challenge from some kid called Dan Smith and as we all know he will not only miss the Champions League final, he could possibly find himself on the sidelines indefinitely.

I think it's safe to say that everyone connected with Arsenal was absolutely furious about what happened. I know I am. If this incident had occurred in the first 20 minutes of the game when the contest was still there to be won, I could begin to have some understanding of what happened.

But this incident happened in injury time at the end of the game when Arsenal were in an unassailable lead. Immediately after the Mr Anti-Arsenal himself Jeff Stelling defended the boy on Sky by saying that Smith is just a young kid who was keen to make a good impression. Sorry, but what exactly was Smith, a defender, going to possibly do to change the course of a game having come on 10 minutes from then end of a contest that was already effectively over?

The Sunderland camp predictably came out in defence of the boy saying that he is not a dirty player and he is of good character blah, blah, blah. Given that he was sent off on the only other occasion he played for the Sunderland, I think it's closer to the truth to say that this boy is anything but an angel.

Arsene has come out on record saying that he may take legal action against Smith. Whilst I fully understand his anger I'm not entirely sure whether this course of action is altogether wise. It could open a can of worms that can never be sealed up again. However if Diaby does end up being out of football for good you can be sure that Smith will end up in court being sued for damages.

This of course will not take away the fact the Diaby is going to miss out on the biggest day of his life, thanks to a teenage pillock who will probably never know what it's like to get close to a Champions League final other than watching it on TV. The whole situation really, really stinks and whatever happens from here, I just hope that there is some justice to come out of this for Diaby somewhere down the line and I really mean that.

Now it's time to look at our trip to Eastlands where we will face Manchester City.

In years gone by it has been Charlton that have had a tendency to have an end of season collapse but, having suffered seven defeats in their last eight league games, it appears to be City's turn.

We all know that City are predictably unpredictable but even by their often bewildering standards this slump in form is hard to fathom. I suppose in terms of experience, the absence of Andy Cole and the departure of Robbie Fowler has hit the club a lot harder than they imagined.

For all that, City are not short of decent players. For example, Richard Dunne has been a revelation at the back, Trevor Sinclair, Claudio Reyna, Steven Ireland and Joey Barton are decent enough players in the middle of the park and up front the young Greek lad Samaras has shown a fair bit of potential.

The major problem for City is that they haven't often managed to get these players all on the pitch regularly enough and as we Gunners know ourselves it's not easy to gather some momentum and consistency if you don't have a settled side.

That has hindered the progress Stuart Pearce was making and I think that it is going to be interesting to see what level of backing he will get from the City board in the summer. The club has some of the most loyal fans in the country bar none and although they have manager that has huge passion and potential I think they deserve to have a team that is really worth shouting about.

The danger man Arsenal have to look out for, fitness permitting is Darius Vassell. With Rooney almost certain to be sidelined for the World Cup, I honestly think that there will be another seat up for grabs on the plane to Germany and the one thing he has over the likes of Beattie, Ashton and Harewood for example is that, good or bad, he knows the England set up and invariably not England down (Euro 2004 penalty miss aside of course) when called upon.

That is all speculation but there is one thing that is beyond doubt – we were dreadful up at Sunderland in all honesty but we got away with it. Even if we play half as badly at Eastlands, I don't think we will be as fortunate again.