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Arsenal vs Valencia Happy face, happy heart Broken, broken, broken hearts Ah, Valencia, I spent a memorable holiday there and loved it. But I can say one thing with something close to certainty, Unai Emery would probably still be manager now if the form we showed in beating Valencia in the semis of the Europa League had carried on to the Final. It didn’t and maybe it sometimes can be good to lose as I feel he didn’t fit Arsenal. He seemed a gentleman, very knowledgeable on football and his record in Spain was exemplary, as was his record in Europe. But Chelsea destroyed us, he never really recovered, and it paved the way for Arteta to take over, a manager that does fit Arsenal, even if he has his detractors. Unai Emery is part of this rivalry, though, and I will return to him in this blog. Emery's heart was taken out by Chelsea The thing is, Valencia are not a team we have played often. I will give you the bare statistics as they tell you almost nothing – 7 games, 3 wins, 3 losses and one draw. So, even stevens? Absolutely not. They have broken our hearts more than once and more than twice. And without the master from Spain, Mr Emery, maybe every tie would have gone their way. First Cut is the Deepest Let’s take the draw, the first match. We matched them, yes? Eh, no. It was the European Cupwinners Cup of 1980. It was our 70th match of the season, yes, you read that right, numerous cup replays against the great Liverpool and others meant Arsenal were tired, stretched and were beaten by West Ham in the FA cup final only 4 days before. Valencia had the exquisite Mario Kempes and the sublime Rainer Bonhof amongst others. But we had beaten the Masters Juventus on our way to the final. Liam Brady was our great and was now about to prove it on the big European stage. But their leader was the extraordinary Alfredo Di Stefano, often touted as the best player ever, as their manager. Despite his reputation, and his star names, they played it cagey, keeping a tight rein on Brady, giving away few chances. So yes, we got a draw 0-0 but they won on penalties, such a rare thing at the time that John Motson, for the BBC, kept explaining what was going to happen. Kempes missed the first and then we had Brady, very reliable from the spot. Except that night. The stars imploded. He missed. And then all the way to the 6th man and a very nervous Graham Rix needed to score. Pereira sensed his nervousness and saved quite easily. Valencia are our daddies from the start. Heart-breaking to lose 2 finals in a few days. Are you listening, Liverpool? Other teams have lost 2 trophies one after the other in heart-breaking fashion. Mario Kempes somehow missed And so the next time, Arsene Wenger had appeared. We probably had the best team in Europe yet were struggling to prove it in the Champions league. It was April 2001, the quarter finals and we had all our big stars except Bergkamp, Kanu substituting for him. They had a good team but not up to our class and so we beat them 2-1 at home after they went one up first half with Robert Ayala. Henry and it’s only Ray Parlour scored 2 in 2 minutes to give us a win. Ayala’s goal was the decider as they won the return 1-0 with a second half goal from John Carew. Again they are our daddies. We should have beaten them but somehow Wenger couldn’t do it in Europe most of the time. Heartbreak city. You have got to remember we had such a sublime side with players all clubs wanted. Liam Brady also missed Don’t go breaking my heart And so next season we got our chance for revenge. We had got through to the second group stage and played them first at home. We had Bergkamp back but we limped along to a 0-0. Then the return? John Carew scored on 34 to put them through. Eh, no, then Henry scored on 49 to put us through on away goals. Finally we will beat them? Nope, John Carew again on 57 to put them through. We learned to hate him, the big, lanky Norwegian. And so they did it again, stop sending us home crying, Valencia. Big John Carew -go away And so to our man, Emery. The poor guy suffered tremendous ad hominem attacks for us. Attacking his pronunciations, his strange English, his histrionics on the side of the pitch, in fact any personal attack that was possible. He quite rightly complained that Arteta was given far better treatment than he was despite similar results. And he was up against Valencia in the semi-finals of the Europa League in 2019, who each time before had beaten us like puppies. Owner of a lonely heart He was an expert on Valencia having managed them for several years and got them regularly into Champions league. He showed this expertise with Arsenal and a team we wouldn’t recognise today despite it only being 3 years. Cech, Kolasinic, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Koscielny, Mustafi, Aubameyang, Maitland Niles, Ozil, and Guendouzi played. But it all started out as normal – they scored after 11 minutes with Diakhaby and the curse of Valencia was still alive. Emery, despite his knowledge of the club couldn’t save us from another defeat. Except he could, Lacazette scored 2 shortly afterwards to give us a chance and then Aubameyang on 90 to give us a real chance of making the final of the trophy Emery was the master of. Not a total eclipse of my heart And so the second leg in Valencia. Surely we could finally beat them in a tie? Unbelievably they did it again on 11 minutes with Gameiro opening the scoring. I couldn’t take any more of Valencia, they always seemed to break our hearts. But this time Emery was too good for them as Aubameyang was on fire. A hat trick on 17, 69 and 88 meant it was one of his best matches. Lacazette got another on 50 so that another from Gameiro didn’t matter. We had finally got it, the win we wanted over Valencia. The bogeyman had been slain and it was Unai Emery, in his finest moment for us, who did it. To my mind, he was our most unpopular manager since Bruce Rioch but over those 2 matches he was good. Of course, Chelsea trashed us and he then tarnished that memory. Terry Neill couldn’t beat them nor Arsene Wenger, but Emery did. At least thank you for that memory. You didn’t deserve, nor does anyone, the personal attacks. 3 goals to break the Bats hearts And so, what next? I am sure we will meet them again. We have finally got on top. Let us hope that the Valencia curse has finally gone away.
A Tale of Two Cities part 2 Liverpool has always been intertwined with Arsenal. Probably our greatest ever match was beating them at Anfield 2-0 in 1989 to win the league. But that is a story for another day. In 1979-80 we played Liverpool teams (there is a blue team as well) 9 times. How did we get on? Well read on. As I said last time, Liverpool beat us 3-1 in the Charity Shield. As I also mentioned last time, they were consistently the best team in Europe for a long time, before and after this season. They sent us home crying, telling us we weren’t Arsenal. Could we get revenge against the best team in Europe? Well read on. In November, we played Everton at Highbury and beat them 2-0 and set down a marker to the city. Next week we played Liverpool, also at Highbury, and drew 0-0. With the logic of home advantage, that meant Liverpool were marginally better, but we were getting closer to them, I felt. At the end of March, we played at Goodison and won 1-0. Another warning for Liverpool. An Oliver Twist in the Cup We were the Cup holders, could we do it again? 2nd division Cardiff, surely was easy in the 3rd round? Ah, I don’t think so. 0-0 and then 2-1, another replay. Then Brighton, as I mentioned last time 2-0 and they must have hated us by then. Then Bolton, who liked kicking people, 1-1, again a replay but we at least beat them 3-0 to go through against 2nd division Watford, surely this time an easy match. A struggle 2-1 and then we come up against Liverpool in the semi’s. They had never done the double in the 20th century, only teams from London. Us and the Spuds. They were very hungry to do so, and us beating Everton twice meant nothing to them. They were the kings. Everton were playing 2nd division West Ham in the other semi. They would surely win. They wanted to win the double by beating Everton like we had by beating the Spuds. Arsenal were never going to stop them. But we were Arsenal, we like winning. We had 6 fighting Irish, we had Liam Brady and we had got a taste for the Cup last time against Man Utd. However, every time we came up against Liverpool in those days, I was nervous, I have to concede they were better than us. We went to Hillsborough hoping and got nothing 0-0. In the meantime we played them in the league and drew 1-1 at Anfield as well. So then across to Villa Park and 1-1 after extra time then again Villa Park and the same result. Then across to Coventry and finally Brian Talbot gets a header after a mistake by our old favourite Ray Kennedy. Hey, hey, hey, we had beaten them, the kings of everywhere. We were Arsenal. We were like a boxer finally getting on top late on in the fight. We were the better team. And we only had 2nd division West Ham to beat in the final. Easy peasy after beating the kings. Trevor Brooking stoops to score with this head. The twist came in the final. Trevor Brooking scored the only goal with his head, as he never stopped saying, and Arsenal were flat. Too many games, hard games, mental attitude, various things came into play, but we didn’t do it. West Ham should have scored a second and Willie Young should have been sent off for a cynical foul on Paul Allen, then the youngest player to play in a cup final, who was through on goal late on. But they won anyway to become kings of London that season. The Old Curiosity country We still had the Cup Winners Cup. A curious thing was the Germanic flavour of our campaign. First up was Fenerbahce from Turkey, who have a huge population in Germany. 2-0 at home and an intimidating 0-0 away saw us on to the next round. FC Magdeburg from Germany next which again was a struggle 2-1 at home and 2-2 away. Then IFK Gothenberg of Sweden where we finally had an easier time, beating them 5-1 at home, making the next leg a formality. A bit tenuous, but Sweden is a Germanic country. Then Juventus from Turin in the semi’s, and southern Italians refer to the northerners as Germans. A big club, at the same time as we were playing Liverpool 5 times. We were up against the big boys, with a tiny squad by todays standards. We drew 1-1 with them at Highbury in the first leg, they had the vital away goal and nobody had beaten them at home in European competition in a very long time. We played 3 times against Liverpool between first leg and second, tough draining matches, we had no hope of going to Juventus and winning. Watching the match in Allen’s pub that night, it felt like a formality, the noise from the Juventus crowd was deafening, and we huffed and puffed but were never going to win. Paul Vaessen silences the Juventus fans Terry Neill decided to throw on Paul Vaessen, an 18 year old striker (with a tragic story for another day), with 15 minutes to go. I heard afterwards that Don Howe had told him “Get on there and score for us”. The poor guy had said yes, but somehow he did, with a couple of minutes left, he was on the end of a cross from Rix and we had done it. I couldn’t believe it. Juventus fell silent. We had beaten Juventus and shortly after beat Liverpool, two of the biggest names in world football. We were Arsenal. We could do it. Finals were a Bleak House for us So the final and Valencia, then a top team from Spain. They had a superb German midfielder, Rainer Bonhof, who had won the World Cup in 1974. They also had the sublime Argentinian Mario Kempes, also a World Cup winner from 1978.They had the legendary Alfredo Di Stefano as manager, one of the greatest footballers of all time. We didn’t have that calibre but we had Liam Brady and the fighting Irish, seven if you include the manager. I wrote about it in a previous blog so I don’t really want to go too much over it again, but it was a tough slog of a match, coming towards the end of a 70 match season. It went to penalties and the 2 stars Brady and Kempes both missed first time. Bonhof slotted home the fifth and John Hollins ours. On to the players who don’t really want to take penalties. But Ricardo Arias whacked his home and Graham Rix, often the guy who provided a late assist for us, missed the sixth. Beaten in 2 finals. Heartbreaking. I find shootouts almost impossible to watch when it is Arsenal or Ireland. I keep expecting our players to miss. Rainer Bonhof scored the vital fifth penalty Game 69 against Wolves and somehow we won 2-1. Then game 70 Middlesbrough and they destroyed us 5-0. I really believe we could have won the league that season as we dropped lots of points towards the end with so many tough matches against top teams and so many replays. But next year surely was our year? We had beaten the big boys. Our young team was nearing its peak. The Irish team was going to make the next step. We were Arsenal and we were on our way. The 80’s would be Arsenal.