If we had not all forgiven Jens for his occasional rushes of blood that scarred previous European campaigns with his heroics in the FA cup final last year, then we surely have now. A string of fine saves, a commanding aerial performance and a season defining penalty save gave Jens the Man of the Match and the plaudits. Often maligned for his theatrics and unpredictable performances Jens has been the rock that our success has been built on this season. Cesc, Henry and Eboue have grabbed the headlines but Jens has been playing superbly and has certainly caught the eye of Germany National Coach, Jurgen Klinsmann.
On a night when resilience and determination were required in abundance Arsenal battled and repelled wave after wave of attack as the Yellow submarine went hunting for opposing gunners. This was certainly not the Arsenal we thought or wanted to see. There was a tension in all Arsenals play which showed that we now believe we can win the competition. Underdogs can play with freedom, favourites play under pressure.
The Arsenal team was the one we expected but it was set up in a way which suggested we felt we could keep our 10th consecutive clean sheet in the tournament. The full backs were not pushing forwards as much as normal, partly due to the width of Villareal, and I am sure in no small part to the presence of Sol rather than Senderos. The five man midfield that sits in a zig-zag across the midfield was flat meaning the trademarked Arsenal angles were no where to be seen. The Arsenal style of passing relies on movement and the midfield straddling the opposition midfield, finding spaces in front and behind the opposition midfield line. Last night our midfield sat in a line in front of Villareals midfield which gave the excellent Senna time to break up our play.
Having said all that Arsenal settled well and had the best of the opening 5 minutes but by 10 minutes Villareal had forced themselves on the game and proceeded to keep possession for large parts. Villareal had, what for a Champions League semi-final were, three or four guilt edged chances. The main culprit for Villareal being Franco, with two headers. Villareals best move came in the 18th minute with neat work down the Villareal left culminating in a square ball from Riquelme to Senna whose lay off was hit tamely at Jens by Sorin. The first half seemed to be a tale of two stars with Riquelme finding time on the ball and space to link play, and Henry playing 30 yards from our midfield chasing long balls. However 0-0 at half-time was satisfactory.
The second half was even worse from a fans perspective. We just did not look to attack and there were rarely men ahead of the ball, what is more when players did advance the passing was so tame that Villareal were able to intercept and block with ease. The, once again, ineffectual Reyes, or Rays as David Pleat pronounces it, was subbed for Pires however Pires’ contribution was only mildly better than Jose’s.
For Arsenal the stand-out performers were the spine: Jens, Kolo and Gilberto. The three of them put in determined, occasionally masterful performances. Gilberto got close to Riquelme in the second half and constantly spoiled the Villareal attacks. Kolo has gone from strength to strength and I believe if he were English he would be commanding a £15-20million transfer fee. Then there is Jens, what more can be said about him? The scenes at the end of the game showed what a figure he is at Arsenal. Johann Djorou and Alex Song hanging off of him like toddlers on their dads arm.
It may not have been a classic Arsenal display but the character shown by the squad was tremendous. Enjoy the game this evening, sit back and see two of the greats of European football battle it out for a chance to meet us in the final.
The dream lives on.
Player ratingsSir Jens – 9 – Indomitable performance punctuated with the penalty save. Would have been a 10 but his distribution could have been better.
Eboue – 6 – Quiet but did the job. Could not attack as he would have wished.
Flamini – 5 – not enough time
Kolo – 7 – Sound defence, good block late on.
Sol – 6 – looked a little shaky on first game back from broken nose. Was caught short at the back and seemed off the pace.
Gilberto – 8 – Good game, could have been sent off for petulant swipe. In general played well and was crucial to clean sheet.
Cesc – 6 – Could not impose himself as he would have liked.
Hleb – 6- Disjointed performance looking to run with ball too much.
Freddie – 7 – tireless game with a couple of good runs forward.
Reyes – 5 - 5 is generous he was awful
Henry – 6 – Alone up front there was no link between Henry and Midfield
Clichy – 7 – For his first game since November 11th it was a great performance. Full of energy and defended well.
Pires – 6 – Played in the middle but never seemed to get into his flow.