Arsenal 2, Juventus 0 (Champions League, QF, first leg)
Sorry, I think I deserve just a little credit for not going with “Absolutely Fabregas”.
All of a sudden, Arsenal’s loss of Patrick Viera last season seems a little less devestating. Not only is the (mostly) young Gunners side coming into its own with poised showings against Europe’s toughtest competition — last night’s impressive display following Arsenal’s ouster of Real Madrid — but the home side’s composure was in stark contrast to the 2nd half meltdown suffered by Fabio Capello’s men. From the Telegraph’s Henry Winter.
If Cesc Fabregas’ name danced merrily on the lips of every Arsenal fan as they strolled into the ground last night, then mention of Kolo Toure surely featured in ensuing utterances. Organised superbly by Toure, Arsenal’s defence equalled AC Milan’s Champions League record of seven successive clean sheets.
Juventus coach Fabio Capello must have secretly admired the mobility and steel of Toure and his defensive cohorts, particularly as his own back five cost £100 million – 20 times more than Wenger’s rearguard. Toure was magnificent, even inflicting two stealthy tackles on Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who wore the bemused look of someone belatedly realising he had been pickpocketed.
This compelling first leg was played at an intensity and speed that Juventus failed to match. At times it resembled an FA Cup tie, although the only Englishman to touch the ball was Brian Barwick, the Football Association’s watching chief executive, who caught a wayward clearance from Zebina.
The foreign hearts in the Arsenal ranks were filled with an English passion as they tore into esteemed guests, the sixth-placed side in the Premiership giving a wonderful advertisement for the English league. The suggestion that Arsenal would struggle against more physical European opponents, and would melt when Vieira and Emerson crunched into challenges, was soon mocked.
Even Robert Pires, who would normally struggle to tackle a petit fours, flew into challenges on Vieira. The thought must briefly have passed through troubled Italian minds: had they plucked the wrong French ball-winner from Highbury? “Welcome Home Patrick – Toujours the Fantastique 4” read one banner on the North Bank. Nobody had bothered to add anything about Pires tackling him.
I didn’t get to see last night’s Benfica/Barcelona match in its entirety, but there’s a pair of saves at Ronaldinho’s expense that ought be shown on “SportsCenter” in an endless loop. “What Chris D’abaldo is to Saliva,” I can already hear John Buccigross intoning, “Moretto de Souz is to Benfica”.