17 May 2006


Belletti 81Arsenal settled quicker than Barca who curiously hit two huge longballs out of defence. Puyol and GVB (Giovanni van Bronckhorst) backed off as Eboue, who had ran from defence to support Hleb, went at both players before whipping a low cross into the box, a magnificent first touch took Henry away from Marquez and you would have bet your balls on him scoring but Valdes flew off his line and charged down from six yards. Henry took the resulting corner himself (from the left), got a return pass from Pires and teased Deco before accelerating away and hit an explosive right foot shot which Valdes saved brilliantly. The next 15 minutes were largely uneventful as Barca recovered from a nervy start and began to dictate play. Gilberto Silva, standing in the centre circle, overhit a pass to Hleb, he tried to take the ball on his chest but it flew up into the air, Eto'o challenged with a high foot that nearly slammed into Hleb's ribs before bringing it under control and passing to Ronaldinho. Pires tried to chop him down from behind but missed, the Brazilian dissected the Arsenal defence with laser precision through pass to Eto'o, he tried to go round Lehmann but the giant German grabbed his ankle sending him crashing into the turf, Giuly tapped the loose ball into an empty net a split second AFTER the ref blew his whistle. Red card for Lehmann but no goal (it should have been a goal and red card). Pires made way for Almunia. Eboue should have been sent off for doing a Del Horno (a studs up foul) into GVB's left thigh and this after the defender had already lost possession. Cole made a fantastic clearance as Giuly ran onto another superb Ronaldinho pass. On 37 minutes everyone's worst fears (well mine at least) were realised. Eboue dived on the right of the box to win a free kick. Henry chipped a cross to the back post and the much maligned Sol Campbell, who actually had an excellent game, met the ball with a magnificent header that left Valdes rooted to the spot. This of course meant we faced the prospect of Arsenal playing more of the catenaccio crap they have played throughout Europe this season. Into first half injury time Barca managed their first worthwhile shot on goal. Ronaldinho, who actually had a far better than people will probably give him credit for, tried to goad Gilberto Silva into making a challenge but he wouldn't bite so he hit this brilliant pass with the ball of his foot to Eto'o who rolled Campbell before hammering a shot at goal which Almunia tipped against the inside of a post. Henry was lucky to escape with just a yellow for what appeared to be an appalling foul from behind on van Bommel, the Dutchman in fact did an amazing job of feigning injury. Larsson came on for van Bommel on the hour mark. Puyol slipped as Hleb threaded a pass through to Henry, Valdes closed his angle and Henry hit a tame shot straight at him. Eto'o passed a ball to Iniesta before heading towards the centre circle, Larsson touched on Iniesta's pass as the Arsenal defence appealed for offside, Eto'o took the ball on his left foot before shooting inside Almunia's post with his right. Barca moved up a gear and turned the screw as Arsenal began to wilt. Five minutes Barca's two substitutes combined for the winner. Belletti, who came on for the painfully slow Oleguer on 71 minutes, rolled a pass into Larsson who almost put his knee out stretching for the ball, Larsson ran outside of the box, talking Campbell with him, Belletti ran into the space onto the Swede's pass and fired a shot between Almunia's legs from a tight angle and the ball flew in off the 'keepers heels into the roof of the net. I believe Belletti's first ever goal for Barca. Barca celebrated as if they had won and effectively played out time to start the real celebrations in earnest.

I don't want to hear any bullshit about how the ref screwed Arsenal. He was evenly inept. Barca's 'goal' should have stood and Eboue should have been sent off for a disgraceful foul on GVB. In the post match interviews Wenger and, surprisingly Henry, tried to shift blame away from Lehmann onto the ref :

"I don't know if the referee had a Barcelona shirt on because they kicked me all over the place. Maybe next time I'll learn how to dive."

And added :

"I expect the referee to do his job but I don't think he did."

Well he certainly didn't because Arsenal only finished the game with 10 men instead of 9. I'm not sure who was official MOM but it should be Larsson because he came off the bench to turn the game and end his club career with the biggest prize of them all. Rijkaard's substitutions were perfect. For all of Wenger's talk about his young team he bottled it in the end and went with Pires and Campbell at the expense of Reyes and Senderos. Valdes, who is prone to making almighty cock-ups was superb. Spain may have themselves two World Class goalkeepers (Casillas being the other).

Congratulations to Barcelona.

Attendance : 77,500
Red Card : Lehmann 18 (Arsenal)
Assists : Henry (fk), Larsson, Larsson