Two stellar goalkeeping performances shaped the first legs of the Champions League semifinals this week. First, Chelsea visited the Catalan cauldron, the Camp Nou, to face free-scoring Barcelona. The attacking trio of
Chelsea prevented Barcelona from scoring at the Camp Nou for the first time since Manchester United accomplished the feat in the same stage last season.
Barça was frustrated by the result, and by the performance of the referee who gave yellow cards to
This defensive hole, the stress from a crunch La Liga match against Real Madrid this weekend and the fact Chelsea can rest players against Fulham on Saturday -- they're out of the title race -- could hand Chelsea the advantage going into next week's second leg. Surely Hiddink's arms are in knots from the incessant twisting
In the other semifinal,
Ferguson's tactics paid off. United dominated the match, creating chance after chance. The Red Devils broke the deadlock in the 18th minute via the unusual route of defender
There's no doubt we will see a different Arsenal at the Emirates next Tuesday. By removing the defensive shackles of his youthful charges, Wenger's side will make more of an attacking spectacle than in the first leg.
Arsenal certainly is still within a shout of getting to the final and winning the Champions League -- through fair means. But this year is the 90th anniversary of a little-known incident when The Gunners achieved success through slightly more dubious means.
Ring the bells, sound the trumpets, print the flyers -- from the battlements of Castle Limey, we are starting a new campaign. Arsenal should be relegated! They should also be stripped of their 13 league titles. Why? Come closer friend and listen.
Those of you with a penchant for
Dodging the horse-drawn cabs, Team Limey arrives in 1913 Highbury, where a new $625,000 (big, big money back then) stadium has just been built to house the Arsenal, which had recently, for financial gain, moved north across the river from Woolwich, where it had been originally founded at the works team for the Woolwich Arsenal armaments factory (Hence the nickname, the Gunners).
However, this new ground came at a cost. After amassing $300,000 of debt, the club's finances were under strain. Anticipated revenue streams collapsed when World War I broke out in 1914 and the professional leagues were suspended in 1915, not to recommence until '19.
Arsenal had been relatively successful in that last '14-15 season, finishing in fifth place in the Second Division. But given that only two teams were promoted each season, it's puzzling that, in the first season after the war in '19-20, Arsenal ended up in the First Division.
The Football League, prior to the start of the '19-20 season, decided to expand the First and Second divisions from 20 clubs to 22 each. There appeared to be two logical ways to do this. No. 1: Don't relegate, as usual, the two bottom clubs from the First Division -- Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea. Or, No. 2: Have the usual relegation, but in addition to first and second place Derby and Preston, also promote the third and fourth place clubs from Division 2 (Barnsley and Wolverhampton Wanderers). Relegating the bottom club (Tottenham) and promoting the third-place club (Barnsley) was also possible, but seemed less likely.
The precedent for deciding the expansion plan dictated a vote. Arsenal chairman
Bar for the start of the Great War, there would have been an investigation into Manchester United and Liverpool conspiring to allow United to win 2-0 to avoid relegation. In exchange for Norris' support that the match-fixing inquiry would not take place, it was Liverpool that argued at the League Management Committee on Arsenal's case for promotion. This was based on accelerating the development of the traditionally northern-dominated Football League in the south of the country through the use of Arsenal's first-rate new stadium.
Norris secured the Manchester United vote through the same method and those of Derby, Preston and Chelsea by offering his powerful support that they too would be elected to the First Division (remember, finishing place didn't guarantee promotion in a moment of expansion). It also seems very likely that backhanders were presented to other clubs, but time has swallowed the full details.
The plan worked. Tottenham was relegated and Derby, Preston and, amazingly, fifth-place Arsenal were promoted.
It was the last time a club was elected rather than promoted to England's top flight. And spare a thought for third-place Barnsley. It wasn't until 1997 that it tasted top-flight football again.
Last time around we were musing on why English clubs have been so dominant in the Champions League of late.
Let us know who you think will be off to Rome come the end of May at the usual address: