The Greatest Goal I Ever Saw: Arshavin's Winner For Arsenal vs Barca
Lionel Messi picks up the ball inside the Arsenal box. It's 1-1 with ten minutes to go. Ashburton Grove holds its breath.
All that's in our power as fans is to will the team on, pray for a misplaced pass or perfectly timed tackle. Our prayers were answered. Laurent Koscielny intercepts the ball. “GET RID” is the cry from the stands. He waits, he waits, he waits, until finally he sees a free teammate and releases the ball.
Nicklas Bendtner is that man. He takes his time, drifting inside, looking for the right pass just like his teammate. Five Barcelona players swarm around him. Just clear it, for Christ’s sake. But this is Arsenal. He threads it through the incoming pack of Spaniards – just – and finds Jack Wilshere. He doesn’t faff about. One touch, five Barca players out the game. Incisive.
Cesc Fabregas receives the ball and turns instantly, effortlessly caressing the ball in tandem with his body’s movement. He’s now facing the Barcelona goal. Those of us in the upper tier, privileged with a bird’s-eye view of the pitch, could see Samir Nasri sprinting down the right. Fabregas saw it quicker than us. Without needing another look, he unleashes an outside of the boot through ball - Nasri doesn’t even need to break his stride.
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Suddenly Arsenal are on the attack, with Nasri pacing towards goal. The crowd rises to their feet. Surely not. We look across; Robin van Persie is the only player in support. Just hit it, Samir. Thankfully he had more composure than us fans. Like Koscielny and Bendtner before him, he waits. The chance to shoot passes, and we assess the situation with anxious anticipation. What is he going to do?
And then, from nowhere, Andrei Arshavin sprints into the picture. Nasri cuts it back; the ball evades Carlos Puyol’s outstretched leg, and the diminutive Russian runs to meet it. The whole stadium goes silent. Dead silent.
Victor Valdes falls to the floor as if taken off his feet by the deafening roar from the crowd. Arshavin reels away to my corner of the North Bank with his shirt over his face. He can’t see, but he can hear, feel, the unbridled joy emanating from the stands. Delirium doesn’t come close to describing it.
Not only had we taken the lead against the best team in the world with seven minutes remaining, but we’d scored one of the best counter-attacking goals ever. And I caught it all on my Blackberry’s video camera.
However, victory was still not secured and I was about to experience the most excruciating ten minutes of my life. Our players were exhausted, running mainly on the energy from the stands. Barca attacked with purpose, but they were being hounded back. Suddenly they had a man over on the right. It was Dani Alves, and he was through on goal.
My hands were on the back of my head - I was preparing myself for the inevitable equalizer. Szczesny came out. Those few seconds were ones of complete desperation. I was almost on my knees. He blocked the shot, and a roar almost as loud as that on the 83rd minute ensued. Temporary relief. Then came the realization that the ball fell to the worst person possible: Messi. I’m not sure what happened, but somehow, we kept him and Barcelona out.
The final whistle came and wild celebrations resumed. “He’s five foot four, he’s five foot fouuuur, we’ve got Arshavin, f*** Adebayor!” reverberated around the stadium at full decibel.
This truly was a special evening. Arsenal had given me and 60,000 Gooners a feeling of unison, joy and pride that no other sport, drug or hobby could provide. The contrast of emotions for the goal, with the almost unbearable anxiety and desperation when defending, to the anticipation as Fabregas turned and found Nasri, to the unbridled ecstasy as Arshavin curled the ball into the net, is what football is all about. We may have lost the second leg but this was a moment I will never forget. Cheers, Andrei.
See more from Reuben Lewis @rlewisafc