With Juventus having notoriously piss poor attendance's in Europe, or even Serie ‘A' come to that, it was then somewhat encouraging news to hear that tickets sales of 40,000+ for Stadio Delle Alpi had been achieved by Monday. By kick off time I would estimate a rather respectable 50,000+ were inside the stadium although I've seen no attendance figures. Certainly there were enough to provide a fitting atmosphere. But as we advised them ‘You've only come to see the Arsenal' or in truth more probably they'd come to see Henry. We were advised over the PA system that there could be a six-month prison sentence for the use of fireworks but I hardly think that the pre-match flares to our right resulted in too many arrests. As ever the Italian police searched the wrong set of fans on entry. No change there then.
The Stadium roof reminded me of a rather messy old style suspension bridge, I never like stadiums with a running track and the tented village effect at each end didn't match the dour concrete effect elsewhere. They also had two large screens but neither was operational, although the clocks on the screens I did find useful. What I did like was the fine angle-cut pitch, designed possibly to minimise assistance to offside calls from the linos. If that was the intention it was a miserable failure because Juve were caught offside twelve times due to the ineptitude of Trezeguet, Nedved and Ibrahimović. It was like watching a forward line full of bumbling Johnny Hartsons.
Nedved looked the part with his long flowing locks but he packed all the pace of lawnmower and Eboue had him pressed back in defence as often as he attacked our right flank. Trezeguet and Ibrahimović were the Wimbledon style target men but Kolo and Philippe were far too good for them, winning just about everything there was to win in the air. So their plan A failed and they had no plan B. Quite how they top Serie ‘A' is beyond me because they offered an absolutely minimalist attacking threat. Brown trousers should have been required in an away leg to Juve but I just couldn't visualise them scoring. After kick off I cannot recall being anywhere near as uptight as is my norm for big matches. ‘Vieira woah-oh, Vieira woah-oh, he plays in black and white, his team are f*cking sh*te'
I won't pretend this was a classic, or that there were too many highlights to report but for Ancient Gooners like myself it had a very retro feel, being able as we were, to appreciate some seriously solid defending once again. Our defence started with Thierry who has grown into his captain's role admirably. In short we gave them no time on the ball anywhere on the pitch and they seemingly needed loads of time. We gave them very limited passing options and covered our back four brilliantly, especially Gilberto. Kolo was king once more at the back and is very definitely the leader of the pack now.
The Juve crowd outplayed their team pre-match with an impressive display but couldn't keep the tempo going like a quality English following. I say English but there were, rather pleasingly, various European accents to be heard in our section. When Juve needed their fans most they turned against them, just at a time when the Gooners were rattling through their repertoire to sing their team all the way into the last four.
Juve took over twenty minutes to have an attempt on goal and it came when their left back Chiellini had a wild shot that went well wide. At the other end Senderos had a chance following a corner. Lehmann cut out a low Zambrotta cross and Trezeguet had a shot that went wide. This came before four Juve offsides in as many minutes. A break saw Eboue steam into their box following a great slick move but a cross was called for early and not delivered. Instead of a goal to kill the tie we won a corner where bizarrely Reyes was booked for time wasting. A joke booking in my opinion and one that sees him miss the first leg of the semi final. From the corner Gilberto had a chance at the far post.
Flamini had his turn at winning a corner before Chiellini was carded for a wild hack at Hleb. Reyes crossed from the right with his right foot but it just eluded Thierry and Philippe. Flamini caught Nedved and I grimaced because Herbert Fandel the ref had dismissed two Arsenal players in a past European match against PSV. Arsenal were still doing most of the attacking but Juve won a free kick on forty-five minutes that was totally wasted thankfully. A half time aggregate lead of 2-0 was now looking even healthier thanks to Juve's total lack of pace and penetration up front.
Does anyone know why firemen were so visible in a concrete stadium or why seven fire extinguishers were laid out to seemingly douse an already damp running track? I can only guess that pyrotechnics are fairly standard on the terraces when the fans are pissed off. And they were about to be very pissed off.
The second half was almost as bitty as the first and it took less than a minute for their first offside of the half. As you would expect Juve tried to up the pressure but we coped by countering fast to good effect. Hleb helped one on for a Henry solo that saw Buffon out well to save. Cannavaro tripped Reyes who had a rather nondescript game. It was sometimes a slack Arsenal pass that got Juve on the offensive. A great chase by Kolo and clearance upfield where Cesc realising he was pretty well on his tod so simply drew a free kick. ‘Hello, hello we are the Arsenal boys'. They spent quite a lot of the second half in our half of the pitch but mostly we just kept them out comfortably. ‘ArseneWenger'sredandwhitearmy'.
Around the sixty-minute mark and Zalleta came on for Mutu who I hadn't even realised was on the pitch. Pires came on for Reyes a few minutes later. A Flamini clearance started a move that saw Hleb find Cesc whose shot was straight at Buffon. Balzaretti on for Chiellini but nothing really changed for Juve. A limp shot from Ibrahimović was jeered by the home fans. Lehmann was called upon to make a great save from I know not who as the deflected shot could easily resulted in a goal. Their best chance and Jens wasn't having any he wanted that clean sheet record and deserved to get it. Nedved then fouled Eboue late and off the pitch so his yellow card was very much warranted. Nedved with a good shot well saved again by our German keeper. Jens of course is also loved for his subtle time-wasting, and here he was seemingly chasing after one ball knowing full well that another was being thrown onto the pitch towards the space he'd just vacated. Two balls on the pitch takes time to deal with and Jens was counting down the seconds bless him.
Eboue to Hleb whose solo ended with a shot fired past the far post. Cesc to Freddie inside the fullback but the shot was wide. Cesc to Freddie won another corner. Hleb replaced by Diaby who nearly got in almost immediately from a Henry pass. Jens out to take well. ‘Are you watching Tottenham'. I was absorbed in the game and looked up to see how empty the majority of the ground had become. Before I knew it we were into the two minutes added time and at last that warm glowing feeling that I now know you get when you reach a European Champions League semi final.
Of all the game statistics ball possession is one of the most misleading because it seems Juve had some 60% of possession throughout this match. It's misleading simply because the Bianconeri did very little with their possession. It's not how long you have the ball, as we well know, but what you do with it that counts and Arsenal only ever need the odd micro-second to take it from one end to the other. We did that tonight but failed to score, which was a shame but no crime given the more pressing priority.
On the trip home we pondered just how much Martin Keown has contributed towards our born-again defensive ability and of course were delighted that our final European night at Highbury will see us playing in a Champions League semi-final. Way to go Gunners!