Well, the day has finally come. May 5, Cinco de Mayo, date of a historic regional holiday in Mexico that has seemed to spread to other parts of the world into another one of those occasions for people to gather, drink and carouse — simply because the day has some significance to someone somewhere else on the planet.
But if things go right tonight at the Emirates, Cinco de Mayo could have a hugely important and historic meaning for Gooners worldwide this year, as tonight marks the second leg of the UEFA Champions League semifinal and represents a chance for Arsenal to advance past rivals Manchester United and into the Final in Rome on May 27.
That date later this month would be almost twenty years to the day of the team’s most historic victory, for on May 26 in 1989 Arsenal travelled to Anfield on the final day of their season, knowing that a 2-0 victory over Liverpool would make them champions of England’s First Division. “There then unfurled a night that turned one match into myth, and eleven players into legends,” notes fellow blogger GilbertoSilver in his “Gunnerblog” today.
The match tonight represents a similar two-goal task to overcome, he reminds us all, and the question we all are asking is “Will this May night turn the current group of Gunners into heroes?” There is not a trophy at stake tonight, but the victory would offer a chance for the Gunners to take the field in another Champions League final, and build the confidence and experience of this young and talented side, which has been coming up on the wrong side of scorelines of major matches in recent years.
Halfway through this season the pundits would have written off this Arsenal team when predicting league and Cup winners for the campaign. But after enduring injuries, unrest and a mid-term scoring slump, somehow Arsene’s Wenger’s squad have recovered to find themselves still with a shot at being crowned Champions Of Europe for 2009.
As the French manager himself stated yesterday, “If I had said in November, we will be in the semifinals of the Champions League and the FA Cup, and go 21 (league) games unbeaten, you would have called an ambulance.”
It’s true, having emerged from such a disappointing first half of the season — and such a poor performance just a week ago in the first leg of this CL semifinal at Old Trafford — it would seem amazing to see Arsenal sitting 90 successful minutes away from lifting the Champions League trophy.
And to steal a bit more from Gunnerblog today (from a great post that you should check out at http://www.gunnerblog.com), “We have nothing to lose, and everything to gain. And whilst failing to gain everything could hurt, the point remains that we ought to go out and play without fear. Everybody needs to have a big game tonight — that ought to go without saying. It’s going to have to be a mighty performance to overturn United’s one goal advantage, but it is certainly possible.”
As Gunnerblog continues, “Whether we go through or not, I’m confident we’ll go out with all guns blazing. And if enough guns blaze in the direction of Edwin Van Der Sar’s goal, then you never know. You just never know. Ring the alarm bell. It’s here. And it’s time for some of these Arsenal boys to become men.”
And — in a prediction relevant to today’s holiday — I am tipping our own Mexican, 20-year-old Carlos Vela, to emerge as that boy who’ll become a man tonight by scoring the goal to put Arsenal into the Final.
That would certainly make for a fitting Cinco de Mayo celebration in North London tonight. Come On You Gunners!!