The words ‘Paris‘ and ‘UEFA Champions League final‘ when used in the same sentence are enough to give any Arsenal fans and Arsene Wenger nightmares.
1-0 up with 10-men after Jens Lehmann had been sent off in the first half, the north London outfit were 13 minutes away from becoming the first London club to lift the famous trophy only for Samuel Eto’o and Juliano Belletti to win the game for Barcelona and break Arsenal hearts at the same time.
16 years on from the Gunners reaching their first-ever, and to this date only, final of European football’s elite club competition, the French capital is set to host another on May 28 as 13-time winners Real Madrid face six-time winners Liverpool in what is sure to be a fascinating clash.
This will be the third time that the Stade de France has hosted a Champions League final – it was initially supposed to take place at the Krestovsky Stadium in Saint Petersburg, but was moved following the Russian invasion of Ukraine – and a Spanish side has triumphed on each occasion.
Of course, with Arsenal’s defeat in Paris the most recent of the two finals in question, naturally, there has been some analysis over the game this week.
Speaking on beIN Sports, Wenger recalled where he felt the game was lost and insisted it was not the decision to withdraw Robert Pires for Manuel Almunia to go in goal.
“First of all you have to make quick decisions,” he said.
“At that time, Pires was born in 1973 and we were in 2006, against Barcelona you know at some stage you have to defend. Pires was an offensive player, a very offensive player. Up front, we had Hleb, who was a hard-working type on the right-hand side and Pires on the left with Ljungberg as well. I had to decide is it Hleb, Ljungberg or Pires and, at the end of the day, I thought I keep the guy on the pitch who has the most energy.”
“If I made a mistake it’s not at that moment. It was later in the game. In the end, with 15 minutes to go, I took Flamini on for Fabregas out because I wanted to defend the lead. Maybe I should have brought a third centre-back in at that time and keep the midfield as it is, take Hleb out and put a centre-back in and to try to defend as long as we could because there was only 13 minutes left.”
“Sometimes with 10 minutes to go you just want to get your team over the line and focus on that. So overall, I would say many people question the change of Pires but if you had to play the game again it is not exactly what I would change.”
Wenger’s admission about maybe bringing on a third centre-back instead of taking off Fabregas is interesting as looking at the Arsenal bench that night, Phillippe Senderos was the only option and it’s somewhat of a surprise that the Frenchman didn’t turn to the Swiss especially as the Gunners hadn’t conceded a single goal in the competition with him in the side that season.