Fuck. What a night. It has been so long since we’ve seen an Arsenal side win a must-win match that I think I was starting to believe I would never see the day. 2011 has hurt so very deeply that I didn’t think I could remember a time when football was fun or when Arsenal used to win when it really mattered.
We have grown to prepare for pain, to say ‘ah well’ when inside we were screaming ‘fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuckkkk not again.’ We have watched as players dropped when we needed them the most, packed off to the back street doctor we clearly employ. We have pondered and screamed at the worst luck imaginable as Arsenal seemed destined to destroy themselves in the most hilarious and gut-wrenchingly original ways possible. From a distance it must have been a riot.
But from inside, it has been a knife twisting and turning with every cock up and controversial call.
So, last night, we watched in terror as a bunch of inexperienced teenagers mixed with whatever seniors we still had standing took to the pitch in the biggest match of recent turbulent times. They entered the Champions League knowing what was at stake and they did what we have been praying so long for – they showed heart.
They showed that they wanted to win. That even in the stifling heat of Udine that they would not be beaten.
I don’t think I’ve been prouder of an Arsenal team as I am right now in this very moment. Sure, it wasn’t Barcelona or Real Madrid or either of the Milan teams, it was ‘only’ Udinese. To say that is to belie the enormous pressure which rested on the young shoulders of this team. Has any other team under Arsene Wenger been under so much pressure and so much scrutiny as the 11 who took to the field last night?
We had no Cesc and had just sold Na$ri. We had sold our left back to replace him with a perma-crock who, while immensely talented was, shock-horror, injured. We lost our first choice centre back and had to play the League 1 novice that is Carl Jenkinson. We stuck a right back at left back, Song in the middle with two kids. Threw the newly acquired Gervinho on one flank the inconsistent Theo on the other and stuck a captain through the middle and away we went.
No-one really give us much of a chance did they?
Sure, it wasn’t pretty at times and, for the entirety of the first half the Gooner nation existed in a state of collective heart failure but we, like the players, regrouped at halftime, and we all came out fighting.
It was fantastic to see.
Chesney’s save? The turning point no doubt. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one thinking ‘not again’ as the referee pointed to the penalty spot for a handball only he or his assistant saw and couldn’t really be avoided. Chesney pulled out what can only be described as a world class save under immense pressure. It was the moment the rest of the world realized that Arsenal don’t need a keeper. We have one.
I am not delusional. I know we need more players and can’t rely on this many young and inexperienced players, but last night I dared to believe that maybe, just maybe, the biggest change we have needed to see at Arsenal was finally taking place – the players have found their heart.
Dare to dream huh Gooners?