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The Best Matches Ever Part 7

You knew it was coming right? This is match that has gone down in Arsenal folklore as our finest European hour since Anderlecht in 1970. But while the magnitude of the scoreline will live long in the collective memory, few recall the significance of it with any gusto. The Gunners' had amassed a sparse one point from their opening three Champions' League group games, and with a minute left against Dynamo Kyiv on Matchday four, the Gunners' looked to be heading out in a frustrating 0-0 draw. But Ashley Cole's last minute header gave the Gunners' a lifeline. But defeat in the Giuseppe Meazza stadium against the might of Inter on Matchday Five, would see another early knockout for the Gunners.

I arrived in Milano on the afternoon of the game to find the city swept with torrential rain which had persisted for four days in the build up. Upon meeting some friends in a Milanese bar we were informed that a pitch inspection would take place at 6pm. The omens did not look good. Arriving at the stadium, I was struck by the four beacons in every corner of the San Siro, making it visible for miles around. Unlike Roma and Juventus' soulless concrete arenas, this was a stadium of character and originality. We made our way to the stadium some two hours before kick off. In Europe, they operate a system whereby you sit in the seat of your choosing, so the earlier you arrive, the better your seat. Secondly, sat in the lower tier, we had heard stories of Inter fans penchant for vomiting and urinating on the away support gathered below. Understandably, we were keen to get underneath the roof! The travelling support was in good voice hours before kick off, with an impromptu conga line snaking around the steep away section to the tune of 'Arsene Wenger's red army.'

The Gunners' began the match bereft of their first choice midfield pairing. Vieira was sidelined with a knee injury and Gilberto Silva was fit enough only for a palce on the bench. Ray Parlour and Edu would have their work cut out in central midfield. But the Gunners' began positively and snatched a 25th minute lead. Cole and Pires once again demonstrated their telepathy, linking up on the left, before Cole pulled back for Henry on the edge of the area and Henry despatched a low side foot shot into the bottom corner. But in the immediate aftermarth of the goal, Henry appeared to complain of a tight hamstring and his output would be minimal for another hour or more. But Inter would peg the courageous visitors back eight minutes later, Christian Vieiri's left foot shot took a wild deflection off of Sol Campbell's outstretched limb and looped over Jens Lehmann. Vieiri was embroiled in a frosty relationship with the Inter fans at the time and had pledged not to celebrate his goals anymore. A moon faced pout was all he could muster. It was a cruel twist, but the goal bore more than a passing resemblance to Freddie Ljungberg's winner versus Tottenham some three days previous.

The atmosphere amongst the Gooners' at half time was somewhat despondant. Our lead had been wiped out before we had had a chance to consolidate and few believed we would weather the incoming Inter storm in the second half. But after just 48 minutes, the Gunners' reassumed the ascendancy. Henry teased the Inter full back, before relaeasing a low cross, Freddie Ljungberg crept in under Materazzi's radar to prod the ball in at the front post. Stood behind the goal, we were convinced Ljungberg was offside (subsequent replays would prove he wasn't), but we hardly concerned ourselves with that, the celebrating contingent tumbled forward in acclaim. The seats in most Italian stadiums have no backs, causing a retro terrace like surge whenever a goal is scored. From there on, the Gunners' clung on for dear life. Edu and Parlour became auxiliary centre halves, with Vieiri and Martins pressing Campbell and Toure. Gilberto replaced Kanu on the hour mark, leaving a half fit Henry upfront alone. 'We can't hold on' I repeatedly remarked. With all of the action taking place at the other end of the ground, we craned our necks and breathed heavily with tension as Inter pressed and pressed. A young Italian trader skulked through the terraces selling refreshments, including some decidedly suspicious coffee liquors. The trader in question must have put his children through college with the money he was making from my particular entourage!

With six minutes remaining, Inter forced a succession of corners, Materazzi dived desperately under Campbell's aerial challenge, but the match official was having none of it. Gilberto pumped the ball clear and suddenly Hnery had the ball on the half way line, confronted only by Cannavaro. Henry pushed the ball ahead of him and chased it down ravenously. Having strode to the edge of the Inter penalty area, Henry stopped and checked back, 'oh nooo, the chance has gone now' one of my friends remarked. Thierry had other ideas, pushing the ball back past Cannavaro and unleashing a low left foot shot into the net. The banks of the away end in the San Siro nearly burst with an outpouring of relief and delight, it looked the archetypal smash and grab victory.

But Arsenal had not finsihed there, Parlour's arced ball down the right hand side found Henry, his pass searched narrowly missed Pires in the penalty area, but the ball found Edu on the back post who tucked away a tidy finish. The goal was significant as it put us beyond Inter in the 'head to head' stakes and all but vanquished the memory of a 3-0 thrashing at Highbury. Henry was promptly removed, his tight hamstrings burning with lactic acid. But it did not prevent Arsenal scoring again just sixty seconds later. Aliadiere this time ran onto an Arsenal clearance, and was afforded time to pull the ball back to Robert Pires. His first effort was saved, but he piled the rebound untidily into the net for a fifth. Three goals in the space of three minutes had not given us sufficient time to conclude finishing one goal before another promptly arrived. It was a dizzying experience.

The final whistle went and the acclaim for the Arsenal side was raucous. The Italian police insisted on penning us into the away end for a good hour and a half after the match had finished. In fact, most of us had a tense run to make the last metro of the evening! But that hour and a half was magical, with a cavalcade of songs. I have a vivid memory of surveying the faces around me shortly after the final whistle, the facial expressions were akin to those one would expect to see at an underground rave. Eyes dilated suspesnion of disbelief. 'Eyes roll back and jaws fall open' as Mike Skinner phrased it, grown men, hoarse from shouting and riddled with caffeine had the expression of a small child opening the Christmas present they were praying for. Making our way out of the single entrance in the away enclosure, we walked through the seats towards the front of the lower tier and were met with clear signs of vomit and tipped over, half empty bottles of urine littered on the concrete steps. It seems the Inter fans in the upper tier were keen to maintain their reputation as unwelcoming hosts! When we were eventually let out of the stadium, we found ourselves a quiet Italian restaurant, happy to cater for the wallets of celebrating Gooners by staying open into the wee small hours. But far from getting hammered, on occasions such as these one is already drunk with euphoria and we elected to nurse our overly priced bottled beer and simply recount what we had witnessed, unable to absorb the magnitude of it all. Always one with a cautionary note, I warned anyone who would listen that we were not yet through, we still had to defeat Lokomotiv Moscow at Highbury to ensure progression. The reply I was met with, 'oh come on, if Barca or Madrid had beaten Inter 5-1 tonight, do you honestly believe they would blow it at home to Lokomotiv?' That's when it struck me, that was the company Arsenal were keeping now. The North London derby four days earlier suddenly seemed minor in comparison.LD.

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The Journalist

Writer: Tim Stillman Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Tuesday December 11 2007

Time: 10:07PM

Your Comments

I love that game.
Ozi Gooner you gotta love that aswell lol
remember it well,i didnt have to worry about catching the last metro,coz my friend and i had hired a smart car,but the following day we got lost returning the smart car,ended missing the train to venice,missed the flight,and ended up catching the sleeper train to paris instead,and eurostar to waterloo.on arriving to waterloo bumped into kylie minogue,coming back from dirty weekend in paris with new boyfriend,she was very happy to pose for photos,even whilst i grabbed her arse!!
fran merida
Hands off our Kylie!
Ozi Gooner
How about your worst matches ever series?
so it looks like we are going to finish second in the group stages, that means we will get to play first at home either Porto, Barcelona,Real Madrid,A.C Milan or Inter Milan.....hmmm i think out of all those teams the only team i wouldnt want would be Real Madrid...
fran merida
What's chelski worst matches, kev? I would guess, the 50 years without winning anything.
Probably, BMF. Let's hope this Arsenal x Chelsea isn't one of them. You'll be facing familiar foes. Remember Belletti?Aah, I think you do, still fresh in your member, it must be. Remember Alex? Worthy players indeed...
LD, it wasn't Cannavaro for the 2nd goal, it was Javier Zanetti.
* make that 3rd goal.
I was pretty sure it was Matterazi, but I didnt want to bring it up. Now its done let the argument begin, who has a copy of the Italian Job DVD on hand?
Ozi Gooner
Belleti a worthy player my left testicle, he's done one good thing in a 10 year career, it just happened to be the worst thing that could possibly have happened to Arsenal. That doesnt change the fact his *****e.
Ozi Gooner
It was Javier Zanetti, not Cannavaro for the second goal. And it is Materazzi when Edu bungled it home. Zanetti again was the defender when Pires scored. Frey was the keeper.
And the one good thing he did, makes him worthy.
The only team you wouldn't want is Real Fran? Wouldn't mind any of them apart from Porto, it's a rubbish trip.
I think these European teams want to avoid facing us just as much, at this point. But the knockout stage starts mid-Feb, i.e. when Kolo and Eboue are just back from ACN. Fingers crossed they come back unscathed and lively. And a lot can happen in 2 months. Otherwise, and barring any unforseen injuries (God forbid!!!), I believe we're on the right track. I personally think some of the English teams are stronger/harder to beat than some of these European giants.
AFC85Lew at the end of the day i would take anyone,its just that we knocked them out,so its more likely they would return the favour,im just playing the odds
fran merida
back to sundays game,it could be winner takes all.i believe if we are still in front after the ACN we will take the title,otherwise if we slip into 2nd or third,we probably wont come back.
fran merida
oh yeah it was good to see RVP back,and Hleb on the bench(was he on the bench? i missed the kick of by 3mins and the sub lineup,i just heard someone mention it),if only Cesc could make a surprise return,it would be just perfect
fran merida
what about big fat frank saying that chavski are gonna smash us... w an ker
fran merida
talking about w.... i see kevs trying to give it large already
fran merida
Fran, Hleb wasn't there. Unused subs were Adem Gilberto, Kolo and Fabianski. Arsene said Flamini could be back for Chelsea, but will have to assess Cesc and Hleb these few days. He said he could take risks with 1-2 players, but not all 3-4. Even if we only get RvP and Diaby in this Sunday's squad, based on today's form, adding Flamini, they'd great additions. I'd rather not rush back Cesc and Hleb. Fingers crossed.
"It's a massive game for us, Arsenal have been fantastic this season. They've slipped up a little bit in the last couple of games, which happens to everyone, so it's a great opportunity for us to try and narrow the gap even more. ---- "But Arsenal are a fantastic team, especially at home, and we'll have to be at our best."
Assuming: Almunia; Sagna, Kolo, Gallas, Clichy; Eboue/Walcott, Flamini, Diaby, Rosicky; Ade, RvP/Bendtner; I think that squad should be enough to beat a Drogba/Essien-less Chelsea team, something like this: Cech; Belletti, Alex/Carvalho, Terry, Cashley; SWP, Lampard, Mikel/Makelele, Joe Cole; Shevchenko, Kalou/Pizarro
Almunia can't defend a well placed shot, that's how I think chelsea will score.
chelsea wont beat yhoo marte dont worry i wont them too but they wont man utd 4 da title all the way !! c'mon!
thanks Lou
fran merida
What the hell did Jakk said? Anyone speaks semi-english?
kev, looks like jakk lost his way en route to pre-school. Ignore him.
what yhoo lot on about now tipical arseanl fans cant stand bein wrong

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