BY JACK WOOD / @Mirrorfacex
As this is my first proper piece on anything Arsenal related, I should probably give a brief background regarding myself. I'm 18 and from Scotland, and have supported the Arsenal ever since I cared about football (since I was 6 or 7). People ask me why I support an English team, far less Arsenal. I have no meaningful family connections as far as I know, I just remember watching us play on television one night and deciding - "They are my team."
And they have been ever since. Now I could talk about various memories here, Old Trafford in 2002, the Invincibles, various last gasp and satisfying victories over rivals and trophy wins. The memories are countless, right up until the recent 5-3 against Chelski and the 2-1 over Barca. But a memory that particularly sticks in my mind has to be the Champions League semi-final second leg in 2005/2006. I remember that season well. We had a completely new strip (the maroon, incidentally one of my favourite Arsenal tops), we weren't contesting for the title; we were a far cry from the side that had recently gone 49 games unbeaten in the toughest league in the world. However, despite faltering domestically, in Europe, we were triumphing.
I remember the campaign well, various little details. I remember being drawn against Real Madrid, me sitting at home with my broken leg, filled with a mix of dread and excitement. I obviously remember Henry's very special goal in the Bernabeu and recall the second leg at Highbury when Robert Pires nearly scored from 70 yards. I remember ruefully missing the second leg of the quarter-final against Juventus and the sheer delight when I checked the Teletext.
The tie against Villarreal appeared to be a far less daunting task, given that we had just beaten two of Europe's giants. However, they were having a great season, and that particular Argentine Riquelme was on top form. The first leg at home was certainly a tense affair with only a slim 1-0 victory achieved thanks to a Kolo Touré goal.
We headed into the second leg more nervous than we had been against Madrid or Juve. Was this because we felt Villarreal were better? Was it because the Champions League, a tournament that had eluded us so cruelly in the past, was within such tantalizingly close reach? Whatever it was, I remember being in my room watching the game (confined there by my Mother and with a brother too young to appreciate football), and it being a distinctly unpleasant affair.
There were far too many heart in mouth moments. The Spaniards totally played us off the park if I remember correctly. And then of course, in the 89th bloody minute, a penalty was awarded to Villarreal. I jumped up and screamed at the television, not out of a feeling of injustice, just out of fear. I began to sob, thinking, this is it, they'll take us to extra time and beat us, they've been the far better team. We can't win this, it won't happen.
Little did I know that a big, mental German was about to save us.
I remember it so clearly. The Spanish camera doing the classic penalty shot - player, keeper, player, keeper. I look back at it now, and look at how composed Lehmann was between the sticks. I was stood up, no way could I sit down and stay still for a moment like this. I remember the whistle being blown, and what seemed like an absolute age before Riquelme finally stepped forward to strike the ball. As he did so, I just stopped. Lehmann saved it!
I stopped watching at this point. Tears of sadness had turned into tears of joy, I ran about my house, literally screaming, that we'd reached the final. I couldn't believe it. Just streams of tears of joy. Even my mother, who cares little for sport, was happy for me. I text my Dad saying "We're going to Paris!!!!"
I went into school the next day with the biggest smile on my face. Of course, people said "Oh, Villarreal deserved to win, blah, blah, blah…" and I just thought, who cares? The Gunners were in the Champions League final! Regardless of how painful that final was, and my god, was it painful, this moment will always stand out for me as one of my favourites - all thanks to that big, bad, stark raving mad German.
Ooh to be.