AS PREDICTED, Arsenal will play Villarreal in the semi.
I recklessly stated last week that it was over, and while Arsene’s heroes had a few scares in Turin, the 0-0 draw felt, in the end, comfortable.
However, two things worried me. One, I knew after half an hour that Arsenal would not score.So it was only a question of whether Juventus would score, and when.Two, Arsenal did not retain possession very well.
After 83 minutes, the possession stats came up and Juventus had 62%. I was surprised that Arsenal had as much as 38%
Clearly, Capello had switched his team around, flooding midfield to make sure he did not concede a third goal. He knew Arsenal would protect their 2-0 lead, and play in a more inhibited way, but he was afraid they might score on the break.
When Henry dribbled it into Buffon’s arms, when Freddie got in twice, when Hleb wriggled past Cannavaro, I didn’t think they would score. When Fabregas got in, I thought he might.
The most dangerous period came after 68, when Ibrahimovic had a shot which deflected as Lehmann knelt to gather it and the ball flew over his head at an alarming speed. But Lehmann just reached up and grabbed the ball and held it, very slickly.
Then, in 70, Nedved scattered Eboue, throwing his hip across him when he could not reach the ball. He got a yellow card. In 71, Nedved hit a thunderous shot, which Lehmann blocked brilliantly, low down.
Juventus now had total possession, it was a siege, and when Eboue misjudged a header which hit Trezeguet, I started to feel as if I was watching a skyscraper fall down in slow motion. Then Nedved sent himself off with a scissors tackle on Eboue, kicking him with both legs, and the contest was over, as Arsene noted.
Immediately, Hleb baffled Cannavaro in the box but fired wide of the far post.
A tremendous team effort, with Senderos magnificent. Eight Champions League games without conceding – figure that one out !
Arsene admitted, “Tonight we didn’t really play with freedom. You saw another side of this team that managed to play in a controlled way. I wanted them to score a goal, but it’s in the subconscious when you know you are ahead and you want to protect that. When Nedved was sent off, that was the end of the game.”
THE LESSON from the Last 16 and quarter-final games is a simple one.
In game after game, in the Arsenal games and those involving other clubs, we have seen something very obvious, but it’s something we often overlook when discussing a second leg.
The RESULT of the first leg TOTALLY dictates the kind of game we see in the second leg.
What happened in the first leg does not just frame the second leg, it dictates it, almost every time.
We are often tempted to view the second leg as a different game, and compare it to other games, and build up our expectations, as if it is a normal game, rather than the second half of a 180-minute battle which is organically connected to the first half.
So that’s my blindingly obvious verdict : in Champions League knock-out football, the first leg is the mother of the second leg.
Every opponent is different, every match has its own unique circumstances, but if a team is leading from the first leg they will never flow forward as much as they would if they were not 1-0 up, as Arsenal were against Real Madrid, or 2-0 up, as they were against Juventus.
So the formula is : win the first game, draw the second. You don’t have to win the second leg, you only have to draw it.
A GOOD FORMULA, but will it work every time?
Will it work against Villareal ?
Full disclosure : I’m learning to love Villarreal in the same way that I loved Deportivo La Coruna for a few years. However, I’m 100% sure that Villarreal can’t beat Arsenal 2-0 and 2-0, as Deportivo did.
BARCELONA beat Benfica 2-0 without being wholly convincing.
Eto’o created the first for Ronaldinho in 19, then scored himself in 89. Ronaldinho had a penalty saved after 5.
So the semi-finals are AC Milan – Barcelona and Arsenal -Villarreal.
Having correctly predicted all four quarter-final winners, I only have three more predictions to make before the World Cup starts.