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We didn't want to see this Barca Batterers and a tale of 2 red cards Sometimes in life you don’t want to write a column. This is one such. I have kept on avoiding this one as I have little good to say. The team from the Nou Camp destroyed us like we destroyed Tottenham. I know in advance that I will be lucky to find any metrics that will favour Arsenal. The good thing about this is that most of you reading will be familiar with these clashes. Our first game was in 1999 in the Champions league group stage. We had a great team, the famous back five was still strong, Overmars, Llungberg, Henry, Kanu, Bergkamp, Vieira and others graced our team. We were bloody good, in theory a match for anyone but at that point Europe was hard for us. They were good, Enrique, Figo, De Boer, Rivaldo, Kluivert and a guy called Guardiola who got clattered by Gilles Grimandi fairly late on to leave us down to 10 men. The first red card Enrique scored a scrappy one early on but they couldn’t score another. We were picking up yellow cards at an unbelievable rate, it was easier to say who didn’t get a card. They only got 2. But the red card seemed to wake us up, the ball was in their box immediately afterwards pinging around until Kanu got an awkward toe to it and it went in. 1-1 at the Nou Camp in our first match! Barcelona, we will send you home crying in London. A Wembley Hammering But no, we were the ones crying, 4-2 to Barca. It was an incredibly exciting match if you were not a Gooner. They were one nil up from a penalty when Tony Adams was clearly outside the box. Rivaldo slotted home and then Enrique scored straightaway to make it 2-0 after 15 minutes. There were lots of chances and a cert penalty not given to us. Towards the second half, Bergkamp scored to make it 2-1. We still had an opportunity. Wenger need to get them going for the second half. But they scored on 56 – 3-1. Then Cocu on 69 and we were beaten. A late goal from Overmars didn’t make a difference. They had shown us who the bosses were. And of course the next match was the most famous Arsenal one for most of you out there reading. The Champions League final 2006. The time I was most disappointed. Of course for me our greatest match was Liverpool 1989, and we won that and it was magic, incredible. Why Lehmann, why? But here was regret and frustration. I watched it in Murphys in Sofia and when Lehmann was sent off on 18 minutes I feared the worst. I have still not truly forgiven Lehmann for that. Sol Campbell scored on 37 and somehow we had a chance. We were playing like demons and even creating some chances. Barcelona didn’t really sparkle but on 76 Samuel Eto’o scored a well worked goal and truly I was worried. Then Belloti scored a bit of a scrappy one and I was sick. It is so hard being an Arsenal fan. We deserved to win, in my opinion, and would have if Lehmann had chosen not to foul. Barca deprived me of my greatest dream, the big cup, the biggest cup, the one I wanted. The second red card We got a chance of revenge in 2010 in the quarterfinals but they were ruthless 6-3 over 2 matches. The mighty Zlatan scoring 2 in the first at the Emirates for 2-2 and then some player called Lionel Messi scored 4 for 4-1 at the Nou Camp. Has anyone heard of him? Thierry Henry hid on the bench for them in the 2 matches. We win, or do we? We had them the next year in the round of 16. And we won the first match. We sent them home crying. David Villa scored early but 2 goals in the second half By Van Persie and Arshavin finished them off. Until the next match when Messi scored 2 and Xavi 1 to make it 3-1 after Busquets scored for us with an own goal. We couldn’t even have a real win against them. I don't know this guy Our last chance was in 2016. But Messi was on hand to annihilate everything for us again. Who is this guy? 2 goals and 2-0 at the Emirates. Arsene Wenger was starting to struggle by this stage and his time was nearly up. At the Nou Camp we scored through El Neny but Neymar, Suarez and, you guessed it, Messi demolished any dreams we may have had. Why oh why did I write about this team? Rivals? They are laughing at us. I am sure they call us Arsenal 3 free points. Trophies, you must be joking. I know what you are saying now, Gus, what about trophies? Surely we can match them for that? Readers, what can I say? They have so many more trophies than we have that I have got dizzy trying to count them. The FA Cup – our trophy? They have 31 Copa Del Reys! 5 Champions League! 26 La Liga! Forget about it, every trophy I try they obliterate us. Don’t look, you will get depressed. This boy was a bit useful Star players? They had Maradona, for Christ’s sake. Cruyff, Stoichkov, Neymar, Xavi, Iniesta, Ronaldinho, Eto’o, Ibrahimovic, Lineker, they even had Thierry Henry, Overmars, Petitt and now even Aubameyang. I have missed out so many I could stay here all day. I am writing this part without consulting any sources and I can think of so many players it is unbelievable. And that is without mentioning that guy who scored all the goals against us. They have at least 3 players in that list who are contenders for greatest player of all time. I truly don’t think we have one. Yes, hide your face, Thierry There’s always next year So, all I can do is apologise, dear readers. I know you don’t want to read about Arsenal the losers. Barcelona the big bullies who send us home crying to our mammies saying the big boys hurt us. I just have to dream that Arteta can do it. Next year we take on Barca and Bayern and we dump the 2 of them in the bin. Please, Mikel, is that too much to ask?
2005-2006 Champions of Europe? My biggest dream - Old Big Ears I will say here at the start that this is my last in this series, for now at least, of My Life as a Gooner. It is 49 and I will talk about when we were almost Invincibles again. Invincibles of Europe, that is. I will write about different things from now on but if there is any aspect of Arsenal that you would like me to write about, please request it and I will do it. Up The Arse! One of the defining matches of my life was the European Cup Final of 1968. I was 10 years old, my older brother was a Manchester United fan and we watched it together in black and white. It was magical. The quality of the football was superb, although played at a slower pace than we see now as grounds were heavier, as were balls and boots. Fitness technology had not really entered football so diets were also heavy. Everything was heavy. It’s no wonder heavy metal music had its origins in that period. The Joy was unprecedented for Man Utd It was 1-1 at full time. Then George Best and Man Utd upped their game against Benfica to score 3 times and it seemed like everyone in Ireland celebrated. Worldwide that must have brought in lots of new Man U fans. The European Cup was the glamour trophy to win in club football just like the World Cup was the one to win for a nation. The magic of Bestie trumps all When I chose Arsenal a year later, they didn’t make me wait too long to get our own crack at the European Cup. In 1971 we won the double and we also started our first attempt that year. We did well until March 1972 when we came up against the amazing Ajax side, who were champions, in the quarterfinals. Ray Kennedy scored an away goal for 2-1 in the first but they beat us 1-0 at Highbury. They went on to win it and we gave them a harder time than any other team. The great Ray Kennedy got to lift Old Big ears R.I.P. Not allowed to play But we didn’t win the league again until 1989 and we were barred from Europe then. That team, under George Graham would have had a chance. George was always good tactically and a strong defence was always important in Europe. And so it was 1991-1992 that we got our second chance but we didn’t even make it to 1992. We were knocked out by Benfica in the second round. So we had to wait for Arsene Wenger to weave his magic but he left it behind in Europe. We were constantly being beaten by teams that were lesser than us. It didn't look possible By then, though it was up to four teams getting through so no longer true champions. And 2005-2006 was one of those. We were not champions. And honestly, how many of you out there would agree with me that once we lost that Invincible tag, we had gone backwards and it was difficult to be optimistic for this venture? And like I said last blog, the players we had got in were not of the calibre of the greats of the past and money was tight because we had staked all our cash on the Emirates stadium. But somehow in Europe, we looked like Invincibles again. We waltzed through the group stage like they didn’t exist. Thun, Sparta Prague and Ajax were thrown aside like the fodder they were. A final game draw with our reserves against Ajax the only dropped points. Yes, lesser teams, but teams like these had been our downfall in the past. Could we dream again? My biggest wish always was this trophy, ever since 1968 but I was afraid to dream at this point. Galacticos vs Invincibles And, of course, we got Real Madrid in the first knock-out round. The one club that never worry about money, never worry about buying the best, and never worry about Arsenal, either. We had them away in the first leg, so we needed to keep ourselves in it for Highbury as Real were never beaten at home. Except we were the Arsenal, we had our own royal in Thierry Henry and he popped in a goal to mean that Madrid had to come to Highbury to win. My eyes nearly jumped out of my head, we had beaten the magnificos at home! Our king beats the Royals Ok, it was 0-0 at home but that was good enough. If we could beat Real Madrid, surely we could beat anyone? Except we then got Juventus, the Fiat juggernaut of Italy who had our monster Vieira playing for them. Ok, I thought, the gods don’t want us to win. They don’t appreciate how much this trophy means to me. A nice monster beats a scary monster But we beat them 2-0 at Highbury. Fabregas scored to make a point to Vieira that we now had a nice monster who played pretty football to replace him. And our king Henry scored the other. They had no away goal to boost them and 0-0 in the second leg was good enough to send them back to their villas crying. We were Arsenal! And we were invincible in this Champions League! But then we got Villareal in the semi’s. They were very good at the time and even had a young Santi Cazorla in their squad although he didn’t feature. The first leg was at Highbury and it was the last European match played there. For some reason I can’t remember, we played in our change strip but it didn’t stop us playing well. Late in the first half, Henry took a corner that was headed back out to him, he fizzed it into Hleb who popped it across to Toure, who was still lurking in the goalmouth from the corner, and he stook out a leg to knock it in. 1-0 to the Arsenal rang out across the stadium and that was good enough. Another 0-0 away and we were through, for the first time, to my dream trophy. We can beat them all Heartbreak no.1 It was Barcelona, another giant of the game, with some of the best players ever lined up for them. They had Giovanni von Bronkhurst, one of our old boys, against us, as well as huge stars such as Ronaldhino, Eto’o, Puyol and the rest. We had a top side, most of the Invincibles were there and we were the Champions league Invincibles that year with 10 clean sheets and no defeats. I was allowing myself to dream big. We had already knocked over monsters and there was just one left. I watched it in Murphy’s in Sofia as I had an English visitor, Ian McMaster, a West Ham supporter over. I guess some of the Arsenal Supporter’s club in Bulgaria were there with me but I wasn’t aware of their existence at the time. Heartbreak no.2 Maybe it is petty of me but I have never fully forgiven Lehmann for dragging down Samuel Eto’o to get himself sent off. Almunia came on for a visibly distressed Pires, who was very angry with Wenger and left the club next season. I feel Wenger made the right choice as, with ten men, you can’t take off a defender or holding midfielder and it was between him and Llungberg and he probably felt Llungberg would run harder. It took him a long time to repair that rift. And then Belletti kills the dream And so it had all gone wrong. Barcelona had the wind in their sails and were looking the better team but somehow Campbell scored from a Henry free kick. Could we do it? Had the gods decided to reward me for my longstanding hope of lifting this immense trophy? But the loss of Lehmann and Pires was too much. Eto’o scored a probably offside goal on 76 minutes and it was hard to see how we could come back. I kept hoping for a miracle but Belletti, who had come on as a sub not long before, knocked in their second to sink us. Heartbreak no.3 The dream died that day. If Lehmann had done anything else bar foul Eto’o, I believe we would have won. And now, 15 years later, we are not even qualifying. Please Arsenal, understand that I am 63, qualify this year, and give it to me as a Beatles present for when I am 64! All you have to be is Arsenal again.