Knowing that just one Milan goal would effectively end the tie, and despite struggling to contain my pre-match excitement, I entered the game with a little apprehension. However, little did I know, I was about to witness one of the greatest halves of football in my life – don’t forget, I’m still only 20 years-old.
Without doubt, last night was one of the best nights I’ve experienced at the Emirates. Even with the pockets of empty seats scattered by the absentees, the home crowd were still able to create a superb atmosphere.
As Laurent Koscielny nodded us ahead, the stadium erupted into a cauldron of barbaric noise. And as our other goals went in, the volume in the arena became more and more deafening each time.
Simply put, it was an absolute pleasure to be at the game last night. Certainly, it’s not every day you see the home crowd at the Emirates behave like that. Before the game – and despite the sarcastic comments jabbered out here and there ahead of the match – the majority in the Arsenal camp seriously believed that our side could do the impossible. I was with a few people who put money (only a £1) on an Arsenal 5-0 win. At the time, and even if it was “just a quid”, I assured them that they were throwing their money away.
However, as Arsenal ended the half with an unbelievable 3-0 lead against one of the best teams on the planet, I was starting to feel a little envious of their once-insane bets. I’m not a betting man, and I’m certainly not promoting it, but as soon as the referee (who had a truly horrific performance by the way) blew the whistle for half time, I started to believe that a few of my mates were about to rinse the bookies for every penny they had!
Unfortunately, our side were unable to score again and a goalless second half was enough to put AC Milan through, and a luckless Arsenal side were sent packing from Europe’s most prestigious competition.
Robin van Persie had a fantastic opportunity to score a 4th for Arsenal, which in hindsight, probably would have pushed the game into extra time. On any other day (last weekend and most likely next Monday night too), he would have buried that chance. Some people, including myself at the time, were quick to criticize him for being “too flash” at such an important moment in the tie. But after seeing the replay, I was able to see that simply, it was a fantastic effort denied by an even better save.
From a match where we were ruled out before a ball was even kicked, our side must receive a huge amount of respect and credit for giving absolutely everything – quite literally – against one of the best teams in the world. Likewise, everyone who made the trip to the Emirates last night should be very proud of themselves, too. I can imagine how empty certain other teams’ grounds would have been like, being 4-0 down going into the 2nd leg.
Anyway… it was a really special evening last night, despite the obvious fact we didn’t progress. Nonetheless – and notice how I’ve said this all along – I still believe we will finish in the top four. Chelsea have been awful in recent months and still have huge internal problems in and around the dressing room – although I admit that things might improve for them, now that Andre Villas-Boas (not that he was a bad manager) has moved on. Spurs’ form has been poor lately and with ‘Arry perhaps moving his focus on his seemingly-inevitable England switch, what Tottenham do between now and May is anyone’s guess.
It’s certainly going to be an interesting finish. And with everything said, I still believe a top 4 finish would be a fantastic achievement for us.
Not that I’m putting any more unnecessary pressure on our team, but I don’t think anyone can disagree with me here, when I say that it’s absolutely imperative for us to be in the Champions League next season. For a club as big as Arsenal, and although some other teams will never admit it themselves when they fail to qualify for the competition, we simply cannot go without Champions League football – even if it’s just for one year.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that it’s a done deal. We still have a long way to go, and we still have a lot of work to do.
Although after last night’s exit, we now have the luxury of playing in just the one competition. Our players will only need to play (more or less) once a week from now on. Something that, with a little luck, will allow us to name a bench where we have better players to come on, especially compared to those who tried, but ultimately failed last night.