For Sale: Thousands of nearly new Arsenal flags
Don’t be surprised if you see this message on eBay in the next few days: “FOR SALE: 57,000 red and white flags as good as new — only waved for eight minutes. Apply Arsenal FC, Emirates Stadium, North London.”
For Arsenal’s fans not only stopped waving their freebie flags after eight minutes, but they also stopped believing in their side after an hour as thousands of them trooped away from the stadium no longer able to watch as Manchester United demolished their young team.
It ended 3-1 as United reached the Champions League final for the second successive season 4-1 aggregate.
What was fascinating about Tuesday was what was going on off the pitch as well as what happened on it.
Arsenal fans have never exactly been noted as the most vociferous in the country, earning their old ground Highbury the nickname of “The Library” because it was often so quiet.
But on Tuesday, Arsenal, trailing 1-0 from the first leg, needed all the help they could get and the club left thousands of free flags on every home seat in the stadium to help create an atmosphere that manager Arsene Wenger believed would help intimidate United and boost the confidence of Arsenal’s youngsters.
Wenger had been talking up Arsenal’s prospects of victory all week, and they started the match like a whirlwind with the fans creating a frenzy of noise and colour.
But it went very quiet indeed after eight minutes when Park Ji-sung put United 1-0 ahead and what hopes Arsenal still harboured were detonated three minutes later with an explosive freekick from World and European Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo which made it 2-0, leaving Arsenal needing four goals to win.
United wrapped the match up with one of the goals of the season after an hour when Park, Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney all exchanged passes in a sweeping counter-attack move that went from one end of the pitch to the other in 13 seconds culminating in Ronaldo making it 3-0 and completing what Wenger called, “the worst night of my career”.
In some ways United’s two early goals ruined what was a hugely anticipated contest between two of England’s biggest clubs, because as Wenger also said: “The match was over before it really started.”
United were delighted and marched on imperiously to the final. Most Arsenal fans were long gone by the time it ended, but many who did stay to the painful finish had the grace to clap United off the field.
They could do that quite easily as their flags had long been put to one side.
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PHOTO: Arsenal fans wave flags ahead of their second leg Champions League semi-final soccer match against Manchester United at the Emirates stadium in London May 5, 2009. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh