With no midweek fixture, Arsenal’s players could be forgiven for indulging in some spectating as the last 16 of the Champions League drew its conclusion. Certainly, all eyes will be on Friday’s draw in Nyon.
Whilst Arsene Wenger will have kept his men focused on West Ham’s visit at the weekend as Arsenal continue their push for a first league title in six years, minds have inevitably wandered to Europe’s big prize and who Arsenal will face in the next round. Theo Walcott voiced his desire to face Manchester United for a chance to exorcise the demons of last season’s semi-final exit: “We were very disappointed in the games we played… We want to do something for the fans.” A semi-final exit was always going to be a cruel blow to the team, but particularly the manner of the defeat struck a body blow to not only the players, but the manager’s whole ethos. Wenger sought to introduce and refine the art of counter-attacking football upon his arrival in England, handing out lessons to rival teams on an almost weekly basis. However, last April United made his players the students.
In footballing circles defeat at the semi-final stage is often thought to be tougher than falling at the final hurdle in the sense that the team is deprived of the opportunity to display their talents on the biggest stage. Defeat in the final often signals that the side gave their all but ultimately came up short, but the drama of the two-legged ties and the trickery provided by the away goals rule leave the losers confounded by thoughts of ‘what if?’ Certainly last season’s semi-final exit at the hands of United was harder to accept than the defeat to Barcelona in the 2006 final. On that occasion Jens Lehmann’s early sending off meant that the outcome was a formality, even though Arsenal had taken the lead. Egotistically the manager’s ideal draw would see his side face United in the semis and Bar