Sol was in the line-up despite the broken nose and I was dreading a whack around the face for the only Tottenham or ex-Tottenham player to appear on such a big stage for decades. The referee was the Russian Mr. V Ivanov who had a fine match up until the 88th minute, he managed to go through the entire game without booking anyone and he made just the one piss-poor call.
Arsenal defended from the off and throughout the first half never really threw enough men forward to mount a serious attack. Henry was alone up front and working his socks off but not exactly playing brilliantly. That said he was our first line of defence and played his part in that well. Cesc didn't really get into the game until midway through the second half mainly because Arsenal rarely had the ball. Sol did most things he had to do well but that said there was at least one occasion when Toure bawled him out. Flamini lasted just five minutes and appeared to pull up with a hamstring injury. Gael Clichy, who given that he hasn't played since the start of the season, did brilliantly, replaced him.
More of Jens later. Eboue was pretty good and although he defended most of the game he still found energy to get forward late on. Kolo Toure was the dog's bollocks, he now commands the back line and if there is a better centre back in world football I'd like to know who it is. In years to come the rest of the world will agree with me and also rate him as World XI standard. Freddie is Freddie is Freddie, he worked his rocks off as usual and is just the sort of 100 percenter you want in the trenches in games like this, he gave his all. Reyes worked pretty hard but all too often lost possession on halfway and thus gave us problems. Hleb retained more possession than any other Arsenal player and played a great game, but he too lost the ball at times. That said he was seriously positive when he had it and looked to cause more problems for the ‘Yellow Submarine' than any of the other 'Redcurrents'.
Gilberto was just plain marvellous. He was here there and every fecking where. He won loads of tackles, played his heart out and had a truly immense game. Riquelme was more influential tonight but thanks mainly to Silva he was nowhere near influential enough. Franco the ‘99' ice-cream man was their biggest threat.
On 13 minutes a lucky break gave Franco a chance but he fired over. A fine move, maybe the best of the game then saw Riquelme pull out a good cross and a layback to Sorin was saved by Lehmann because he didn't get enough power on it. On 19 minutes Hleb to Henry and a very iffy offside decision against our main man. On 18 minutes a joke free kick against Fabregas for having his foot up too high despite cleanly winning the ball without contact. Franco trampled on Gilberto, sticking a knee in his side and our Brazilian rather stupidly kicked out. A fine Villarreal cross saw a dive in the box. It was a half of stilted plays where Villareal gradually got the upper hand. They always looked dangerous but never seriously so, we played very deep on a pitch as narrow as Highbury but we looked to be in control defensively for a majority of the time.
Whether we didn't know what to do with a 1-0 aggregate lead is open to conjecture, but what was quite clear was that a clean sheet was going to guarantee a place in Paris. There was a fine save from Franco by Jens and an instinctive clearance by Kolo but Franco looked well offside to me. Henry received little or no service and we couldn't keep the ball for long enough to be effective. That said we gave them very few clear-cut chances in what amounted to a pretty dire half of football. This was GG revisited and you had to admire our fortitude even if the half appeared to last a couple of days. Half time, it was goal less and we were 45 minutes from Paris. The stock of bottles in my front room, supplied by John, were disappearing fast.
As we kicked off a prat wearing an Argentinean shirt ran onto the pitch in an attempt to give Thierry a Barca shirt with his name on. He was jumped upon pretty swiftly, but not nearly hard enough in my opinion.
Lehmann took a cross well. Senna had a shot from a Riquelme ball in. Franco headed just wide from a brilliant ball on their right, this was a great chance and I thought it was in. I also thought we were sitting too deep and I wished I was wearing brown trousers. This was typical Arsenal, we just have to do things the hard way don't we? Our longest move for ages followed; good play from Hleb was followed by a cross from Clichy in a well-worked attack.
38 minutes from Paris and Reyes was working hard but to no effect and still giving the odd ball away, once when Clichy was ahead of him. We wanted Rob on now but could only see Diaby and Van Persie warming up. Campbell was caught as Franco nearly got in.
35 minutes from Paris and we were defending seriously deep.
Jose Mari replaced Josico and after this substitution we found far more space in midfield and Fabregas came a lot more into the game.
25 minutes from Paris and Franco looked to be offside but it fell nicely to Forlan who had been anonymous till this point. This was a great chance but he missed a sitter as he shot wide in a style reminiscent to his days at United. I loved it! Well done that man! We were still hanging on. A Clichy solo was followed by a half decent move involving Reyes, Freddie, Clichy again, Hleb and Henry but the move broke down.
23 minutes gone and Franco fired one into the net past Lehmann but he had to be miles offside and so it was, the flag was up. Pires replaced Reyes some 22 minutes from Paris, rather later than I would have preferred. A great run by Freddie was met with a nasty block that amounted to a deliberate elbow in the chest. It went unseen by both lino and ref, in what was a poor bit of officiating. Freddie then covered well and Jose Mari was irritated enough to give him a kick as the match seemingly entered it's third week. Riquelme was tackled and didn't like it.
17 minutes from Paris: Villareal over hit a ball on the counter.
15 minutes from Paris: Some great Brazilian skills by Gilberto, but I wish he hadn't done that in his own half because my heart won't take it.
13 minutes from Paris: A decent move from the yellows but an important tackle from Sol in our box.
12 minutes from Paris: Jens took a low cross comfortably.
11 minutes from Paris: Clichy won a good ball and attacked but a Villareal player was down so Cesc kicked it out, did you see that Tottenham? Were you watching you scabby git Jol?
10 minutes from Paris: Freddie had a good run on our left.
8 minutes from Paris: Roger replaced Arruabarrena. Now think about it, was the difficulty of spelling Arruabarrena the real reason he wasn't booked in the first leg at Highbury?
7 minutes from Paris: Cesc won a free kick and the act of breathing was becoming difficult. ‘Arsenal, Arsenal FC' could be heard in the background
6 minutes from Paris: A ball too far for Jose Mari as something appeared to be thrown at Jens.
5 minutes from Paris: Gilberto won the ball yet again.
4 minutes from Paris: Eboue intercepted well and charged forward, but a poor or possibly tired cross resulted in a counter attack which Sol cleared.
4 minutes from Paris: A ridiculous dive by Franco as Jens takes the ball.
3 minutes from Paris: Freddie alone up front but he won a throw with every second precious.
2 and a half minutes from Paris: Sol blocked a Forlan shot.
2 minutes from Paris: The softest penalty in the history of European football as the diving, cheating **** Jose Mari crashed to his death without challenging or jumping for the ball against our smallest player Gael Clichy. No way was that a fecking penalty!
Henry broke away on 90 minutes and there was to be an added three-minute delay to our celebrations. Arsenal killed the time pretty effectively and Villareal were really done the second Jens saved the pen. Brilliant though that moment was in the annals of Arsenal history I still made Gilberto man-of-the- match by a country mile, a tremendous display to match his brilliance at Highbury.
So Flamini and Toure didn't pick up yellows and are available to play in Paris if fit. I see selection problems for Wenger in this respect but certainly ones he can live with. Given that Arsenal will be the first London Club ever to play in the Champions League Final. How must they be feeling at the Bridge and the Lane? Very depressed I hope.
Our hotel and train has been booked for a couple of weeks now so we're all right Jack. I hope you all get match tickets and have a great time in Paris and look forward to seeing you all there.