In 2006, Arsène Wenger stared transfixed across the lush green turf of the Stade de France focused only on the most prestigious and coveted club trophy in world football. Make no mistake, the Champions League is the trophy that Arsène and Arsenal know is required to put the official stamp of success on the Wenger years.
Wednesday, 17 May 2006 was not to be our night. We had fought our way through the group stages and somehow sneaked almost unnoticed into the final courtesy of an 89th minute penalty save from mad Jens in the semi-final against Villareal. If we are to reach the final this year, we will have to beat the best teams on the way starting with FC Barcelona at The Emirates Stadium tonight.
In 2006, we had a team about to go into transition. Our talismanic captain Cesc Fàbregas, Manuel Almunia, the resurgent Emmanuel Eboué and unbelievably, a rejuvenated Sol Campbell are the only survivors of that game.
Since 2006 the team has gone through a gradual and sometimes painful metamorphosis. The inspirational brilliance of Thierry Henry, the gallic artistry of Robert Pires and the gutsy determination of Freddie Ljunberg have been lost in the sands of time. TH14 may play for Barcelona, but his heart and more significantly his best years are with Arsenal forever. Those players have been replaced with a new generation of Wenger protégés.
Whether you believe the development of these players was part of a brilliant master plan by Arsène or a consequence of having to make the most of limited finances, it has to be admitted that they have finally moulded into an outfit that looks capable of winning the highest honours, and they can only get better. Tonight we will see if we have reached and surpassed the achievement of the team of 2006.
This season has been full of the ups and downs we’ve become accustomed to over recent years. We’ve lost our best striker, relived the horror of seeing one of our players receive a devastating injury, been written off by the pundits and fought back to be in contention for the league and still are perceived by most ‘experts’ to have little chance of reaching this year’s Champions League final.
David ‘Rocky’ Rocastle died this day in 2001. He was an exceptional player and a true gentleman of the game. What more fitting tribute to this Arsenal legend than to dedicate a victory tonight to his memory.
I could have written about many aspects of tonight’s game, but the more I thought about it, the more I realised just how much it meant to me and to every gooner across the globe. The details of player selection and tactics seemed almost immaterial. It’s our chance to prove everyone wrong. The pundits, the experts, the armchair critics, the green eyed followers of other teams, they have no idea how it feels to be an Arsenal fan who has lived through these years looking forward to this game, this special night.
COME ON ARSENAL…. COME ON ARSENAL….COME ON ARSENAL……