Wednesday, March 29, 2006


When Patrick Vieira looked down after 40 minutes of last night's electrifying Champions League quarter-final and saw Robert Pires wrapped around his ankles, robbing him of possession with an impertinence he surely never witnessed in all the years they shared a training ground at Arsenal, he must have sensed trouble. Bobby, the gliding wide-man with the penchant for funny facial hair and wanton simulation, widely accepted to be past it and presumed to be following Vieira out of London. Surely not!

As Pires passed to Thierry Henry who in turn fed Cesc Fabregas to score, it was a moment that both seemed to vindicate Arsene Wenger's decision to sell his former captain and also to symbolise the coming of age of his new team. Principally, it marked the latest phase of the precocious Fabregas' seemingly inevitable rise to midfield greatness. For a game laden with obvious angles and stories, mainly with regard to Vieira's return to his former manor, the Frenchman's teenage successor's contribution could not have been more fitting.

The lasting impression of last night's game was of a Juventus side utterly routed - and the beneficiaries of a flattering scoreline. However, until that 40th minute goal, the game had been largely even, with Arsenal perhaps sniffing around the more menacingly. How did the Italians leave London in such disarray then, having ceded both the game and their discipline?

While the opening half had the appearance of parity, what was actually happening was the footballing equivalent of the front-runner in middle distance track races. Arsenal took to the game at a ferocious pace, and Juve were forced to respond, to lift the speed of their game to match their opponents. The first forty minutes looked equal, cagey even, but Arsenal were, in effect, burning Juventus off.

Completely unused to playing at such a pace, and facing a youthful team who were in their element, Juve blew themselves out. Without the ball carrying ability of Pavel Nedved and Alessandro Del Piero, they were unable to serve their strikers whenever they did have the ball. When they didn't have it, the damning indictment of Vieira and his midfield colleague, Emerson, was that they found it so hard to get it back.

Praise for Arsenal's success this morning has been couched in bewilderment at how poor Juve were. Eight points clear on top of Serie A, laden with famous names, how could they have lost it so? Their indiscipline was the mark of a team which had no idea what had just happened to it. They could not match the velocity and intensity of Arsenal and could not get a hold of the ball to dictate the pace of the game to suit their own, less explosive limbs.

Arsenal's only regret is that they did not kill the tie last night, but the swiftness of their counter-attacking and the resoluteness of their young, makeshift defence (who have now gone 649 minutes without conceding a Champions League goal) augur well for Turin.

It was a triumph for youth and finesse, and a manifestation of exactly what Wenger would have had in mind when he finally let his talismanic captain leave last summer. Vieira will now miss the return leg next Wednesday through suspension, and while his former manager will have taken no satisfaction in seeing his erstwhile lieutenant reduced so, he will have undoubtedly rejoiced in the reward for his faith in the new generation.


Blogger Tom the Tim said...

Pace, allied to skill, is the way to success in football today. Arsenal showed it last night and Barca have been playing that way for the last couple of seasons. Gordon Strachan is, hopefully, following the same blueprint in his vision of how he wants Celtic to play. It would be interesting to study the age profile of Juve. Apart from Zlatan and Buffon, the rest appear to me to be well into their thirties.

6:42 p.m.  
Blogger noel90 said...


What a difference last night was.

Scottish "players" just want to kick fuck out of the ball......

while the continentals want to make love to it........

I know what I prefer watching.....


6:57 p.m.  

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