It is Written

Arsene Wenger described the Wednesday night second leg fixture against Roma as a game that may shape their destiny. The media is describing the performance as a poor one, but a breakthrough. I don’t think we played poorly, but it was a game where we learned a lot about our players.

After suffering a setback and an attempt by Roma to overrun us in the first 60 minutes, we experienced moments of fortune (Clichy’s penalty decision and Baptista reminding us of the lowlights of his Arsenal days), but we remained strong.

In the final 60 minutes of the game, I thought we controlled it while remaining cautious. Understand that the situation made everybody nervous. Roma certainly didn’t want to concede because of the away goals. We certainly didn’t want to concede in regular time, because that could have ended the game and were we to concede in extra time, we still would have had time to equalize.

It made for a nerve wracking tie. It wasn’t the best display of football, but it was compelling football.

While I was watching the game, an older man behind me kept crucifying Bendtner throughout the match. Sometimes, it wasn’t even Bendtner on the ball (it was van Persie), but he yelled at the screen screaming Wenger to take him off. I had enough, I turned around, and I said, “What did he do wrong now?” He replied, “he breathed.”

That’s all I needed to hear. Never mind the fact that Amy Lawrence (not necessarily a die-hard Wenger supporter, but a mild Arsenal fan) of the Guardian said Bendtner was the best Arsenal player on the night. These idiots refuse to even give him a chance. On the night where Eboue was booed off the pitch at the Emirates, a small contingent of Arsenal “fans” booed Bendtner’s name when announced before kickoff. Frankly, this is completely unacceptable for a striker who has more goals than Gabriel Agbonlahor and was deployed out of position to boot on Wednesday night.

As extra time neared the end, I had two thoughts in my mind. One was, for whatever reason, when watching Diaby make a surging run forward, a thought popped into my head. “Diaby is going to score the winning goal for us,” I turned and said to a friend. The second thought was far negative. I could accept a loss, but I feared that the fallout would be devastating. The “fans” would rip the team to shreds. The media would rip the team to shreds. Having extra games is far more easier to cope with than the devastating loss that could have been suffered on Wednesday.

Regardless of that, I turned my attention to the penalty kick shootout. Now, it’s such a unique experience. It’s essentially a coin flip, you could say, but nerves and determination count for a lot. If you lose, it’s devastating to the point of depression. Totti claimed after the game that he would have rather lost 3-0 than lose on a penalty kick shootout (I take satisfaction in this, as a France fan, he knows how it feels now). He said it felt like his heart was ripped out of his chest. But if you win a penalty shootout, it means everything. It’s a genuine breakthrough.

While watching it, I knew we would win, but I was still nervous. In retrospect, the whole shootout lasted 14 minutes in duration, and it felt like three hours.

Eduardo missed his first PK. Afterwards, it was revealed that even though he missed, he said this to Kolo:

“When he came back he just said ‘Kolo, we’re going to win,’ and I said ‘Yeah, I believe in that.’

What an attitude to have!

In the other kicks, we had Walcott emulating Beattie (I did notice this while watching and I wondered if he was influenced by him) barely slipping it through.

We had Denilson, a man who had never taken a penalty in his entire career, step up and take the fifth and potentially final penalty kick for us. That’s all I need to know about Denilson and how much Wenger believes in him. He buried it. Like Cesc, who put the sword to Italy and destroyed Spain’s supposed “curse” in big European competitions, I knew Neves would come through. Denilson really is one of the most underrated players in the Premier League.

More penalties to come. But when Diaby stepped up, I knew it was over. I knew that this was our destiny, and that this was our way home.

And what a breakthrough it is.

Almunia, who admittedly didn’t look entirely comfortable as a shootout goalkeeper (compare his body language to Lehmann’s body language in the World Cup game against Argentina), said this type of game can give you two years experience in 120 minutes.

Theo said that they celebrated like they won the World Cup.

These sound like exaggerations, and they may slightly be so. But for a young team, it is the first step on the way to major trophies. Before you win trophies, you take steps like these.

You take steps like winning away at Bolton. You take steps like holding your own against an Italian team in hostile opposition. You take steps like winning penalty shootouts when the pressure is unrelenting.

There is an expectation that we will drop off against Blackburn tomorrow, and it definitely may happen. Here’s where the Arshavin signing comes in handy. He will be fully rested and ready to go.

Blackburn have the deplorable walrus Allardyce back, but he has only recruited a few of his former players, notably El Hadji Diouf. They have injury problems of their own, but feature Jason Roberts (of Wigan lore) in attack.

We will rotate the squad some, but a breakthrough like the one in Europe sends a jolt of energy throughout the team. Those that did not play still celebrated on the pitch.

And Wednesday, on a night that had many twists and turns, only had one outcome that was written in the stars:

This team can grow into a juggernaut, but if players are not strong mentally, things will crumble. This team will not crumble.


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