At Highbury tonight the touts would have had a field day if only they could have laid their hands on tickets, because the fans were really looked forward to seeing two Clubs steeped in history with some of the worlds greatest players on show. Despite the fact that both sides were missing key players for a variety of reasons there was still a good few millions of quids worth out on the rather damp pitch on a drizzly North London night. Everyone I know expected a low scoring, tight contest, including none other than Liam Brady who should know more than most about these particular two European giants.
Arsenal kicked off towards the Clock End and the atmosphere was electric as the game got underway with a couple of black and white balloons drifting across the pitch. Pat flattened Cesc early doors, as much as anything to let him know he was in for a game. As it happens it was Vieira who was in for a game because Cesc is developing into one of the classiest acts in world football. This young man is a playmaker of supreme quality in an era where playmakers have ceased to exist. We have here a kid who sees the ball he's going to play before he receives it. He always looks in control, he turns players at will and switches play brilliantly. The only thing he lacks is goals and I fully believe that this will be added to his game in time, everything else you could possibly want is already in place. When he has fully grown and bulked out just a tad more he will become the best midfield player Arsenal have ever had.
Juve played with just two in midfield with two wide men but they didn't get a kick and were totally over run by Arsenal's five in midfield. Arsenal made a tentative start but it didn't take us that long to get into gear and build momentum. When we did we started to outplay Juve and that's how it continued. A great chance fell to Cesc as Hleb played in Rob who back-heeled it to the Spanish youngster, but his shot went across the face of goal and wide.
After Pires was chopped Henry slipped the free kick to Kolo who went on a run and hit his shot wide. Kolo ran Cesc very close tonight for man of the match, if there is a better centre back in the Premiership I've yet to see him. Kolo is now world class and improving. He and Senderos had great games against Trezeguet and Ibrahimovic whom I cannot recall putting in a shot between them. A Reyes solo won another free kick that Henry hit early, he caught Buffon still lining up his wall, but his shot went wide.
Flamini in hard on Camoranesi, Camoranesi with a stupid foul on Reyes for a yellow card. Flamini did his bit well tonight, there are very few players in the Premiership right now who could better him at left back, he played a solid sensible match and I do not recall anything he did wrong. Kolo made a brilliant tackle on Ibrahimovic, which was well worthy of the massive applause it received from the North Bank Gooners. Cesc to Hleb, to Henry, but he miscued it and his shot sailed well over the bar. Senderos on a steaming run down the left and he ended up chasing down their keeper to a richly deserved ovation. We were right in their face and giving them the run around.
Henry got through again as we began to shred the black and white defence. Henry hit an angled shot with his left that went just the wrong side of the far post. Henry with a through ball to Hleb and he too very nearly got through. We were taking it to them and they had no answer to the slick fast passing moves where basically no one other than the player about to receive the ball had a clue where it was going next. That said you just knew it was going to find a redcurrent shirt. Brilliant stuff and massive applause as we ended the half with a 1-0 lead. More importantly we were ahead in all departments and looking good.
Juventus kicked off the second half and hardly touched the ball again. It may have been men versus boys but the boys carved them up, starting with a fine Cesc, Hleb, Eboue move. Flamini was given offside but I doubt that he was. Kolo meantime was making another great saving tackle in his own box. A low cross by Ibrahimovic was taken well by Germany's number one keeper. Henry who by now was browning black shorts was sent flying for yet another free kick.
A straight elbow on Senderos by the frustrated Trezeguet would have been a red in the Premiership, but was only a yellow according to the Swedish referee Peter Frojdfeldt. Hleb fouled Camoranesi but the free kick was over hit and totally wasted. Hleb lacked support before the break and didn't play overly well, after the break however the more forward support of Eboue much improved his play. Hleb to Henry, to Eboue, who won a corner via the roof of the net. Reyes was upended by their tall number four but there was no card this time.
Arsenal it should be mentioned where defending from the font, everyone was working to close down quickly, so the Old Ladies of Turin were given no time at all. Reyes to Cesc, to Thierry and a decent shot well saved won another corner. Juve were still in it but Arsenal were very much on top, my only worry was that we were maybe sitting a little too deep at the back at this stage. Cesc then had a shot saved after some brilliant, if maybe over elaborate passing around their box. We were carving them up now and a second was on the cards. Cesc was taken out again but no card was flashed. Eboue stormed down the right while at the other end Senderos calmly saw off Ibrahimovic yet again.
Juve's best chance came when Camoranesi clipped a shot just wide of the far post; this came about after Henry lost the ball just outside our area. Maybe it was a wakeup call. Another Henry solo down the left that blew more than one defender away almost got Van Persie in. Kolo with another killer tackle at the other end. Camoranesi, for me their best player, took out Robin with an awful foul that could have been a straight red but was in fact a second yellow. This wanker then grinned his way off the pitch whilst applauding the Arsenal fans who were all waving ‘Cheerio'. The TV highlights programme later showed the steam coming from Fabio Capello's ears at this point.
Zebina then stupidly axed Henry out of sheer frustration and he too picked up a second yellow and Juve went down to nine men for the closing stages. Vieira was earlier booked for a foul on Reyes so he too misses the second leg. Juve lost it at the death because we were pissing all over them. No one pisses over Juventus in Italy so this must have been a major shock to their system. There was still time enough left for Hleb to be axed on the edge of the box and for Pires, who had performed as well as I've seen him for ages, shot at Buffon who saved.
What a blinding result, what a staggeringly fine performance and you have to ask the question now – who would bank on Juve turning us over by three goals in Turin. I for one certainly wouldn't put my shirt on it.
Yet another brilliant European night at Highbury, and it could just be that we might just get one more European tie at the famous old stadium!