In the wake of Arsenal’s annual Champions League humiliation, I have decided that today’s Arsenal Scrapbook with make you think of better times.
The date, Tuesday 28th March 2006, the location, Highbury, the opponents, Juventus, the occasion, UEFA Champions League quarter-final first leg.
The game represented an opportunity to progress the semi-final, uncharted territory for The Gunners but, unlike Tuesday night just gone, there was genuine belief it could be done.
Arsene Wenger’s side had beaten Real Madrid 1-0 over two legs, thanks to a wonderful solo goal from Thierry Henry. In Juventus, Arsenal faced another stern test. The Turin giants were eight points clear at the top of Serie A but, it provided another opportunity for The Gunners to prove their quality against the continents biggest teams.
And that’s exactly what they did.
Even on the notoriously small Highbury pitch, Arsenal ran Juve ragged, containing the Italian’s dangerous attack, who in fairness were missing Alessandro Del Piero and former Balon d’or winner Pavel Nedved but, that’s beside the point.
Cesc Fabregas dominated the game, opening the scoring with a low drive five minutes before half-time, and then assisted the second, giving the afore mentioned Henry the easy task of slotting into an empty net from 12 yards.
Juve’s frustration boiled over, with Mauro Camoranesi and Jonathan Zebina both seeing red, such was the quality of Arsenal’s performance.
As well as proving they had the ability to beat Europe’s best and putting themselves in a strong position going into the second leg, Arsenal proved that they had defensive steal, a kin to the days of Adams and the infamous ‘1-0 to Arsenal’ days.
The clean sheet at Highbury that night was the seventh success shut out in Europe, equalling AC Milan’s record set last season.
The one thing I have not mentioned is the war within the war.
I have already mentioned a young Cesc Fabregas, what I have not mentioned, is that his performance that night was up against Patrick Vieira.
The midfield powerhouse, who had led Arsenal to Invincibles success and had many brilliant years at Highbury, moved to Juventus in the summer transfer window of that season for £13.75m and was making his first return to the club since his moved to Italy.
Many had wondered how Vieira’s departure would effect Arsenal, and in truth it did, just achieving Champions League qualification ahead of Tottenham Hotspur, something we will cover in coming weeks I’m sure.
Fabregas didn’t give Vieira a kick all game, evading him on two key occasion to win Arsenal the game, all the while showing that Arsenal had a ready-made replacement for their former skipper, a midfield talent that could, at times, win games on his own.
Fabregas would eventually take Vieira’s number four shirt, and later the armband. While the Spaniard’s trophy success never reached the heights of the Frenchman, he proved himself to be a world class talent who more than replaced Vieira’s impact.
A true changing of the guard.
As for Arsenal’s 2006 Champions League campaign, they drew 0-0 with Juve in Turin, facing Villareal in the last four but, that is all I will say for now.
You probably know the story, granted, however, I will tell it again for you soon, in another Arsenal Scrapbook.
For now, this nostalgic look back is over, you have returned to reality, and the pain, embarrassment and workplace bullying over Tuesday night horror show has returned.
It will go away, yes, it might take a while but, it’ll be all okay in the end.
Let’s just hope for times like Tuesday 28th March 2006 at some point in the near future.