Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Champions League Final Preview

Champions League Final.
Arsenal FC - FC Barcelona
Wednesday 17 May.
Stade de France. Paris.
11.45 a.m. PST. ESPN2

This is it. Arguably the biggest match in Arsenal's history, and a chance for Arsene Wenger to finally realize his dream of winning the Champions League with an Arsenal club that he has built from the ground up. He is already a legend at the club, but lifting "the trophy with the big ears" would make him a God in London N5.

If you want to be called one of the best clubs
in the world, your trophy cabinet needs one of these

Before this year they had never been past the quarterfinal stage. Barcelona won the Champions League in 1992 and were beaten finalists in 1994 (0-4, AC Milan). Barcelona are favorites and yet again Arsenal are the underdogs, which is fine with me. Arsenal were given no chance against Real Madrid in the round of 16 and Juventus in the quarterfinals, and those both turned out just fine.

Will it be the Joga Bonito final that everyone expects between two clubs that play "the beautiful game" rather than defensive, boring football? There is so much pressure to win that the match will likely be more cautious than everyone is droning on about. The best thing that could happen in this match, especially for neutral observers, is for an early goal that forces the other team to come out and play, which should open things up considerably.

Previews everywhere: UEFA, Soccernet, Fox, Myles, Arseblogger.

What to watch for
First off, if this assistant referee calls a dodgy penalty against Arsenal or calls a dodgy offsides to nullify an Arsenal goal, I will be extremely pissed but not suprised. Plain and simple he should be replaced.

You already know that Arsenal feature Mats Wilander in goal and Sting as a substitute striker. Barcelona's weakness might be their fullbacks, so tomorrow look for Arsenal wingers to try to exploit them. Specifically Jose Antonio Reyes, who looks like he could easily be Tom Cruise's little brother, and Alexsandr Hleb, who looks like Richie Cunningham from "Happy Days".

Talented, sane, and does not deify L. Ron Hubbard

"Sit on it, Potsy!"

In central midfield, Gilberto will need to control Barca playmaker Deco and shield the back four, and feed Cesc Fabregas, who hopefully can find some space to play quarterback, distribute the ball, and set up the wingers and Henry.

Speaking of Monsieur Henry, this is his moment to show the entire world that he is every bit as good as Ronaldinho, if not better. The match is in his hometown so he will be extremely up for it. This is the 50th European Championship Final, and he has 49 Champions League goals in 100 appearances. Here's hoping he notches number 50. His game is best when he is able to work in space on the left. If he gets the ball going forward and there is lots of space, look out. Same thing if Arsenal win a free kick from 30 yards or closer.

Ronny & Titi: the 2 best footballers on the planet

For Barca, there is obviously Ronaldinho, whose hype is now catching up with his ability. He doesn't score as much as Henry, but his tricks and flicks are like no other, his vision and passing are incredible, and he is an amazing free kick taker as well. He also likes to work in space from the left, and he gets the ball in space going forward, then look out as well.

Besides him, you have the assassin striker Samuel Eto'o, who is an extremely dangerous finisher. Lionel Messi is their young wunderkind, although his health is in question. For me the most overlooked player for Barca is Deco, who plays the central midfield role of distributer - basically the quarterback who initiates the offense (Cesc Fabregas plays this role for Arsenal). Deco is very, very good, and never seems to get the attention he deserves as people ohh and ahh over Ronaldinho, Eto'o and Messi. He also looks a hell of a lot like Dean Cain.

Hair of the dog: Superman trains
in kryptonite kit. Strange.

Finally there is captain and fullback Carlos Puyol, who I must mention if for no ther reason than he is Slash from Guns N' Roses. Why he doesn't play with a mesh hat and a cigarette hanging from his mouth I'll never know.

"Stop acting like the 'November Rain' video
put you to sleep, Drogba. It was
only 8 minutes,
it was art, and it ruled. Now get up, bitch."

Hopefully Arsenal can do the job and become Champions of Europe. If not, then it's not so bad they they will have lost to my 2nd favorite club (although it is a fairly distant 2nd). I've already got the long lunch lined up for tomorrow - I'll be across the street at the Irish Pub. Can't wait.


Moin said...

With Puyol patroling the RB position, I wouldn't really call full back positions weaknesses for Barca.

On that note, I predict random goal from a corner off of the head of... Senderos to win it for Arse. (No, I didn't just randomly pulled that prediction out of my ass. Seriously, did anybody expect 3-3 last year? I rest my case.)

Kanu said...

Good point Moin. Slash is solid - I was thinking more of Van Bronkhorst who I think is vulnerable on the other side, and Motta if he plays, as I think Motta is not very good.

I read this afternoon that Campbell has been named starter ahead of Senderos, so if Senderos gets the winner it will be even more random then you originally thought.

Solon said...

Good bits, Kanu.

I'd guess, if you could break the game down to the one most important player on each side, Arsenal needs for Hleb to have a blinder, and Barca needs for Deco to have one. What I mean is, if at the end of the match you are saying, "Deco had a great game," I'd guess that Barca will have won--and you'll have the opposite result if you are saying it about Hleb.

One other thing--consider that Lehmann was suspended for the first two CL matches for Arsenal this season (for, in typical Lehmann fashion, squirting an official with water after last year's CL exit), so he personally hasn't given up a goal all season. Add to this the Bayern second leg from last season, and Mats hasn't given up a CL goal in over 1000 minutes. That's pretty amazing.

Kanu said...

I think Reyes is going to play a blinder. He always runs his socks off, and I think playing a Spanish side in the final is going to really motivate him. If he plays half as well as he did in the Bernabeu then look out.

Come on JAR9, and Come On You Gunners!

Federico said...


Very nice photo....