About Me

My photo
Hammersmith, London, United Kingdom
I'm a director of Maidenhead United Football Club. For ten seasons one of my roles at the club was to produce the match programme. The aim of this blog was to write football related articles for publication in the match programme. In particular I like to write about the representation of football in popular culture, specifically music, film/TV and literature. I also write about matches I attend which generally feature Maidenhead United.

Friday, 9 March 2012

No Doubting Tomas

I've seen a couple of awe inspiring second leg comebacks in my time. The first was Preston North End's 4-1 win over Torquay United at Deepdale in the 1994 Division Four Play Off Semi-Final Second Leg, to date the last senior English football match played on a plastic pitch. The other, a little more pertinent to my night's viewing, was Fulham's epic 4-1 win over Juventus en route to their 2010 Europa League Final appearance. Both comeback's followed a similar path, the task initially became more difficult when the opposition increased their lead with an away goal, which was swiftly followed by the dismissal of a domineering centre back, Darren Moore and Fabio Cannavaro respectively, both of whose early baths proved key to their team's ultimate demise.
Pondering this correlation as I walked up Holloway Road the former factor would surely prove fatal to Arsenal's cause, a 6-1 win simply out of the question, the latter meanwhile would be most welcome. Neither came to pass in a game where Arsenal's stock rose by appealing to that peculiar human trait, the love of a gallant loser.
With, as Arsene Wenger neatly surmised, a 95% chance of failure, Arsenal had almost nothing to lose and this feeling seemed to imbibe their approach with a joyful, irresponsible attacking abandon. This in turn was reflected and reinforced by a watching crowd who bellowed their support throughout, as my croaky voice paid testament to the day after.
This was my first visit to Arsenal since the FA Cup win over Leeds and the recent win over Spurs seemed to have infused the ground with a renewed sense of belief which was soon rewarded by Laurent Koscielny's opening goal, an unchallenged near post header from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's corner. The early goal served its purpose by ensuring atmosphere remained at fever pitch. 
The Gunners sustained their lung busting start, inspired in the middle of the pitch by the flying Czech, Tomas Rosicky. Only guaranteed a game by the absence of others since returning himself himself from long term injury, and seen as a symptom of the club's demise by his unfortunate habit of grinning when Arsenal conceded a goal, his return to form in recent weeks has been a remarkable renaissance, perhaps helped by Wenger being forced to play him in the centre of midfield. This saw him ideally positioned to pick up a weak clearance and thump home Arsenal's second, again nicely timed to keep the comeback bubbling nicely.
Milan had no answer to the red rampage, clearly seeing no capacity for improvement in their opponent's woeful first leg performance, and when Oxlade-Chamberlain was cynically squashed in a Milanese sandwich, the tension created by the subsequent penalty award was palpable. The spot kick provided the opportunity for the come back to cross the rubicon from dream to reality, placing the teams just one goal apart. Robin Van Persie showed great nerve to ignore Mark Van Bommel's attempts at gamemanship, before despatching the ball like a missile into the back of the net.
On the face of it this was the perfect set up for the second half but the question remained how Arsenal could sustain their breathless tempo, with little to sustain it available on the bench. Still chances were bound to arrive at either end and now it was the goalkeepers' turn to shine. 
Any straw poll would have certainly selected Van Persie with the chance to equalise, but from close range his too clever by half flick was matched by the mighty paw of Christian Abbati. Milan's more realistic approach to ensuring their win, may have led to accusations of cynicism but their spoiling tactics were a natural response to the first half onlslaught and almost created a chance to put them out of sight but Antonio Nocerino couldn't quite do enough to trouble Wojciech Szczesny from close range towards the end.
Hope sprang eternal amongst the men in red shirts who sunk to the ground in agony at the final whistle, none more so than man of the match Rosicky, part of a team fully deserving of a standing ovation for producing a performance which almost erased the memory of that in the first leg.

No comments: