For the Calming of Nervous Arsenal Fans
For Arsenal fans these afternoon hours are tortuous. It's that stomach-knotting feeling you get before big European matches that makes you incapable of all but the most basic survival dependent tasks - breathing, bowel movements, smoking fags. You stare out of the window running the impending events through your mind, willing the hours to tick by so that your suffering can cease....In order to minimise your discomfort, Arsenal fans, and to allow you a few moments of happy thoughts, here - based on meticulous study of match statistics and form, the zodiac and the wisdom of the Tarot, as well as my many years of midweek evenings spent slumped in front of European football ties - is the best case scenario for your team:
7.43pm - Final ad break ends, Champions League music swells in background, shots of two teams in tunnel, patting heads of mascots and puffing cheeks nervously. Eamon Dunphy summarises thusly: "Juve are finished, washed up; their nickname is the 'Old Lady' and that's right because my granny could move faster than their midfield. Arsenal to go through with bells on."
7.45pm - Match kicks off and George Hamilton makes reference to the home ground being called the Stadio Delle Alpi, and the fact that that is appropriate because of the mountain that the home side have to climb etc. Jim Beglin icily ignores George's carefully conceived metaphor, proceeds with conventional-style analysis - causing Hamilton to die a little inside.
7.50pm - Juve, contrary to expectations, have besieged Arsenal in the opening minutes, in the hope that an early goal will rattle the youthful Gunners' confident mien. No dice. Lehmann parries a wicked Nedved free kick to safety, the loose ball is picked up by Reyes, who feeds Henry - the Frenchman glides around Cannavaro as if the defender were a 1500-year old Giant Redwood, slamming the ball past a despairing Buffon.1-0 Arsenal! Cut to shot of incandescent Fabio Capello.
8.10pm - Conscious that their great gamble has failed, and paralysed by the fear of Arsenal's counter-attack, Juve descend into a funk, a stupor which says "we've won the league, that'll do for us, can we go now?". Aimless balls are punted for a disinterested Zlatan Ibrahimovic to half-chase; the Temperamental Striker throws his arms to heaven, mouthing filthy Swedish epithets.
8.20pm - Zambrotta, infuriated by Henry's repeated nutmegs, clatters through the Arsenal striker for a yellow-card. Referee Herbert Fandel, keen to prevent the indiscipline of the first leg (and impress watching FIFA refereeing bods in World Cup year) delivers stern finger-wagging admonishment. Zambrotta responds by spitting on his shoes and heading straight for the dressing rooms. Cut to shot of incandescent Fabio Capello. "Silly, silly man" says Hamilton, "You've got that right, George", agrees Beglin. Hamilton's eyes light up at the affirmation.
8.30pm - Half-time and the teams leave the field, Arsenal to the lilting air of "1-0 to the Ar-sen-al" from their fans high up in the curva, Juve to a chorus of boos from what remains of their supporters - namely, their mothers and the ground staff.
8.35pm - Studio verdict on Juve: Gilesy: "a disgrace", Dunphy: "foul and pestilent".
8.45pm - Second half kicks off. More of the same, except Juve have dispensed even with the long balls to Ibrahimovic, since the Temperamental Striker has taken to loitering on the touchline, smoking what appears to be some sort of reefer. Cut to shot of incandescent Fabio Capello.
8.50pm-9.10pm - Match continues in the following vein: Arsenal pinballing the sphere around gracefully, Juve hoofing winsome Gunners attackers into the air, garnering yellow and red cards with exemplary efficiency. Soon only Buffon and Thuram remain. TV director forced to resort to stock footage of incandescent Fabio Capello, as Juve boss is now long home, sniggering at low-brow gameshows on TV.
9.15pm - Near-empty Stadio Delle Alpi stands lit up by fires and flares, police baton charges follow as local Ultras show their disapproval. "I'm sure UEFA will have something to say about that tomorrow Jim", says George Hamilton. "They certainly will George", concurs Beglin. Hamilton swoons.
9.25pm - Thuram collapses with exhaustion while attempting to head a corner which he has taken himself. Ljungberg and Henry juggle the ball up the field before laying it on to Fabregas to slot it past Buffon, who by this time is crouched in his goal mouth sucking his thumb.2-0 Arsenal!
9.30pm - Final whistle. Arsenal players hug and jump around, celebrating reaching their first Champions League semi-final. George Hamilton, emboldened: "A few weeks ago the Winter Olympics were here and there was plenty of sliding around. But there was no slipping by Arsenal tonight and in truth, they were never even on thin ice!". Jim Beglin grimaces silently.
Studio verdict: Gilesy - "All credit to Arsenal", Dunphy- "Juve are scoundrels and vagabonds".
Fabio Capello, tucked up in bed, relaxes with Angels and Demons, his favourite of the Dan Brown books.