That One Time Arsenal Made It to the UEFA Champions League Final

Question: What do Arsenal and the Deutsche Mark have in common? Answer: They’re both useless in Europe. It’s funny, because it’s true. It was true when the Euro was first put into circulation, and it’s even more true now. Then again: old bank notes do have some value on the collectors market.

During the 2003-04 Barclays Premier League season, I kept waiting for Arsenal to lose a match, but they never did. The following season, they finished second in the Premiership, and went on to defeat Manchester United in one of the most miserable FA Cup Finals ever.

The 2005-06 BPL season saw the Gunners finish fourth–barely. Part of me hoped that Tottenham Hotspur would finish fourth, and that Arsenal would win the UEFA Champions League Final, thus eliminated Spurs from the competition for yet another year. It wasn’t meant to be. Spurs lost on the final day, due in no small part to the dodgy lasagna some of the squad ate the night before. You can’t make this stuff up. I bet they were as sick as a parrot (sorry not sorry).

The road to the 2006 UEFA Champions League Final was easy for Arsenal–too easy. They won five of six group stage matches, and drew the other. The Gunners scored ten goals, and conceded two. The knockout stage was pretty much a cake walk; if you only look at the final scores. By the time the day of the final arrived, Arsenal had went ten straight matches without conceding a goal. This should have been my first sign that it was all going to fall apart.

I’m sure many of you know what happened next: Goalkeeper Jens Lehmann was sent off for going all Jens Lehmann. Robert Pires was sacrificed so that Manuel Almunia could go in goal. Sol Campbell gave Arsenal the lead with a great headed goal in the first half. But in the second half, it was all Barcelona. Or mostly Barcelona, anyway.

The Catalan club won 2-1, and thus ended my dream of ever seeing the Arsenal players lift the Champions League trophy. The Gunners had a couple of good runs after that, but they never got that close again. Lately, they have been struggling in the group, only to squeak thru on matchday six. They then get knocked out during the first knockout round. It’s a full blown pattern at this point.

My road to the 2006 Champions League Final wasn’t an easy, nor a fun one. No, I didn’t make it to Paris; I didn’t even make it to the pub in Buckhead. For a while there, I wasn’t even sure I would be at home. In February, I received a letter stating I was selected for jury duty the week of the final. That was my first clue that Arsenal would make it there.

Nowadays, it wouldn’t be so bad, since UEFA moved the Champions League Final to a Saturday a few years ago. At the time, it was on a Wednesday, and I had to be at the old courthouse (it’s complicated) at Noon. The kickoff was at 2:45 EDT, and I knew I wouldn’t get to see the prematch show, which is my favorite part, since Arsenal hadn’t lost yet.

When I arrive at the courthouse, the juror herder says to wait downstairs, because another trial is finishing up. So me and a group of increasingly grumpy men and women wait it out in a very cramped space that was built in the 1800s. I’m glad that I’m not claustrophobic. Or that I didn’t have a panic attack.

Eventually, the trial ends, and everyone leaves the courtroom. But . . . The baliff says we cannot go in. So we wait some more. It’s getting close to two o’clock and I’m growing more antsy be the second. I cannot discuss my problem with anyone, since only three people in my zip code care about football, and two of them weren’t there.

Finally, the baliff pops his head out and tells us we can go home–the defendant has changed his plea to guilty (which reminds me of a Morrissey song). And people wonder why I hate people.

So, I bust ass getting home. The upshot is: I only live a mile away. I arrive home, dive for the remote, turn on the TV while I’m in midair, and land on the love seat. I have only missed the first ninety seconds. I wish I had missed the whole ninety minutes.

X-Men: First Class

X-Men: First Class was the first X-Men movie that I loved. The original trilogy started strong, then crashed and burned in the final third. And the less said about X-Men Origins: Wolverine, the better.

I must admit that I wasn’t entirely wowed by the premise of First Class, when I heard about it. The idea of setting an X-Men movie in the Sixties was appealing, but I wasn’t convinced that it should be prequel instead of a total reboot. The first class in the film is not the same one from the comics, with the exception of Beast. The filmmakers cherry pick characters and stories from the comics, and up to that point, it worked fifty percent of the time. However, this approach turned out to be the correct one, since it allowed us to have the cinematic version of Days of Future Past.

Director/co-writer Matthew Vaughn brought a much needed fresh approach and energy to the franchise. First Class has the feel of a film that was actually made in the Sixties, and the Ken Adam-style set design from Dr. Strangelove, and the James Bond films of the era. The previous X-Men films were dramatic, with humorous moments. First Class was a fun movie that allowed me to embrace the characters, so when the dramatic stuff occured, it had greater impact.

Let me be the billionth person to say that James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender were perfectly cast as Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr (or is it Lehnsherr?). They don’t try to imitate Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan, nor should they have. These are younger versions, and they haven’t yet become Professor X and Magneto.

Having been burned by Star Wars, I am wary when it comes to prequels. I felt nothing at all for Anakin Skywalker; except for when his mother died. First Class made me care about Erik. I could understand his motivations, while disagreeing with his actions. As someone who knows a little bit about comic books, origin stories sometimes bore me; for I know them far too well. But when they are as well conceived as X-Men: First Class, I don’t mind.

Star Wars: Rebels “Out of Darkness”

For a nice change of pace, we are treated to an episode of Star Wars: Rebels that features Hera and Sabine. How do I say this without sounding creepy? I really like Sabine. Not in the way Ezra does, but more in the “I think she’s really cool” way. I am hoping that the series will explore her backstory more as time goes on.

In “Out of Darkness,” the mysterious person known as “Fulcrum” tells Hera that she can pick up some much needed supplies at an abandoned base called Fort Anaxes. Sabine tags along, since she wants to learn more about this Fulcrum character. Hera keeps telling Sabine that information about Fulcrum is on a strictly “need to know” basis, and this doesn’t sit well with the young Mandalorian.

It’s at this point I should mention the eariler in the episode, the Phantom was damaged, and is leaking fuel. Zeb and Ezra were tasked with running a diagnostic check on the shuttle, but Chopper went all Chopper, and one thing led to another… You can guess the rest.

The “need to know” thing is bugging Sabine, and she keeps asking questions that are above her pay grade. That is, if she was actually getting paid. She tells Hera that it’s like being in the Imperial Academy all over again. Wait what?! That’s interesting. There has got to be a story there.

People Suck (A Pointless Story)

I’m standing in line at the grocery store, waiting to pay for my BOGO bagels (banana bread, yum). And the person behind me with a cart filled with houseplants(?) asks the cashier if it would be possible to open another registar, because her grandma is waiting in the car. Yeah, she actually said that. If she was Twitter famous, (like me) she could have played the “Do you know who I am?” card.

Hey, the 400 pornbots who follow me think I’m awesome.

She actually gets her request granted. Who knew such a stunt would work. So when she gets to the newly opened registar, she is joined by a woman who appears in age to be somewhere between Yoda, and Maz Kanata, not that I go around guessing women’s ages–I know better.

I started thinking, (which is never a good thing) “If Grandma is in the car, then who the hell is that?” Maybe it was her mother, could be an aunt or an in-law. All I know is that some people will go to great lengths to avoid standing next to me. I ended up going home and eating bagles while listening to The Smiths. It’s the only thing in my life that makes any sense.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

With The Nice Guys hitting theatres this weekend, I thought this would be a good time to look back a another detective movie written and directed by Shane Black: Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang stars Robert Downey Jr. as Harry Lockhart, a burgler from New York City, who stumbles his way into a Hollywood screen test (as you do). Upon arriving in Tinseltown, Harry meets Perry van Shrike, a.k.a. “Gay Perry,” the private detective hired by the studio to be a consultant on the film. One night, on what is supposed to be a routine video surveillance, the two of them discover a dead body. Then hilarity ensues.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is both a film noir and a comedy. Based on the novel Bodies Are Where You Find Them by Brett Halliday, the movie is a “meta” take on hard boiled detective films and pulp novels. Some reviewers at the time compared Kiss Kiss Bang Bang to the Scream movies. A more recent comparison could be made to Edgar Wright’s Cornetto Trilogy. The Scream and Cornetto films work as both meta fiction, and movies within their given genres, as does Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

One stock character in a pulp novel or film noir is the femme fatale. In Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, that would be Harmony Lane, played by Michelle Monaghan. In a typical film noir, Harmony would be a smart woman, who constantly finds herself in trouble. In Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Harmony is a smart woman, who constantly finds herself in absurd situations. And trouble.

What Kiss Kiss Bang Bang does so well is play with the conventions of the genre. The characters may not always make the unexpected choice, but they often make the most insane version of the expected one. I don’t know about anyone else, but I like to be surprised when I watch a movie, and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang does that more often than not.

Star Wars: Rebels “Breaking Ranks”

I have one question after watching this episode: If the Empire starts training stormtroopers at such an early age, why are they so crap? Maybe that’s why the First Order starts training at an even younger age.

“Breaking Ranks” is the episode of Rebels in which Ezra infiltrates an Imperial training facility, in order to obtain Agent Kallus’ MacGuffin. While he’s there, Ezra makes friends with a cadet named Zare Leonis. Zare has a mission of his own: His older sister joined the academy, and now she seems to have dropped off the map. What could have happened to her?

For once, everything was going as planned, but at the last second, Ezra decides it’s more important to help Zare. This isn’t something he would have done a few episodes ago. I think it’s called “character growth.”

When Ezra obtains the MacGuffin he tries to get his new friend to come along, but Zare has a mission of his own. I wish him luck.

St. Totteringham’s Day Came Late This Year

I woke up way too early Sunday morning, so that I could travel with my friends to Fado Irish Pub in Buckhead, so we could celebrate the final day of the Barclays Premier League season. “Celebrate” is a loose term. One friend supports Southampton, who, pending results, could qualify for Europa League. Another friend supports Manchester United, and the less said about the “bomb,” the better. At least they have the FA Cup final to look forward to, which has been my rallying cry the past two years.

As a Gooner, I wondered which set of circumstances would prevail on the day: #Arsenalesque, or #ThatsSoSpursy. The former is a reference to the chapter about the 1980 FA Cup Final in the book, Fever Pitch, written by Nick Hornby. I have turned the term into a catch-all for when Arsenal does something only they could do–good or bad. The latter hashtag was the brainchild of the Men in Blazers, which honors Tottenham Hotspur’s unparalleled ability to brain fart in the face of achievement.

Going into the Premiership season, Leicester City were a 5000-1 shot to lift the trophy. What are the odds? I am happy they are champions, for it is always nice to see a fresh face on the top step of the podium (the same goes for Max Verstappen). Some say that when you win one, the second is easier to come by. Others will see it as an anomaly. Only time will tell if they are a dynasty, or a one trophy wonder.

When Claudio Ranieri was hired as manager of Leicester, it was seen by many as an uninspiring choice. He could probably keep the club out of the relegation zone, but the best they could ever hope for is mid-table obscurity. Ranieri was no ones idea of a long term solution, since he usually got the sack sooner rather than later. When he was manager of the Greek National Team, they did the virtually impossible: They lost to Faroe Islands. At least it wasn’t San Marino.

That’ll get you shot.

I don’t know how Ranieri and Leicester City pulled this off. I’m waiting for the 30 for 30 documentary to explain it all. ESPN did try to come up with an American equivilent. The best I could come up with was Alan Kulwicki winning what was then the NASCAR Winston Cup in 1992. It’s not apples to apples, but both were severe underdogs. Many “better” drivers tried to copy Kulwicki’s formula for success, and failed. I wonder how many will try to copy Leicester.

If you had told me last July that during the upcoming football season, Chelsea would implode; Manchester City would underperform; Manchester United would finish out of the top four; and Liverpool would be Liverpool, I would have thought that Arsenal might just have a shot at the title. Who am I kidding? I would have put money on Leicester City before betting on the Gunners.

While Arsenal did finish second, it wasn’t close. In addition to winning the FA Cup Final in 2014 and 2015, the only other bright spot for us Gooners was St. Totteringham’s Day. That’s the day when Tottenham are mathmatically eliminated from finishing ahead of Arsenal. “Mathmatically eliminated” is the key phrase, for it is bad form to celebrate in late August. And yes, the traditional dish served on the day is lasagne.

At the end of the day, (and season) I could bemoan the fact Arsenal blew their best chance to win the Premiership in over a decade. But really, Leicester City were ten points better than the Gunners; it’s kind of sad. But to end on a positive note: Leicester were eleven points better than Spurs. That’s all kinds of yay.