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.

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