An interesting point to start with: has any newspaper praised Arsene Wenger for securing Champions League football for yet another season?
Throughout January and Febuary we had to endure the papers waxing lyrical about what a great job Martin O'Neill was doing. How he was doing a great job of making Villa punch above their weight.
How he was doing a great job of making Villa punch above their weight!!
A team who had been assembled at a greater price than this Arsenal team - I'm sorry, but I for one, do not perceive that as punching above their weight: it's doing what you should be doing; the fact the Spuds have thrown money at their team without success, does not mean that throwing money around and bringing temporary success is praise-worthy. Coupled to this, have we heard now how well Wenger has done? NO.
Perhaps more pertinently, the newspapers have also failed to notice something else: Villa haven't won since the first week of February; if they don't win tonight it will be three months without a victory. Will this be noted by the media? Will it fuck.
So obviously this season is not the overwhelming failure the media will portray it as, even if we don't go through.
Despite this, it is the defining game. 2005/06 wasn't considered a failure and this was because even though we were dreadful domestically, we had our trip to Paris.
So it will all come down to tomorrow night.
My hope, is that United get caught between a rock and a hard place, and try to get the best of both worlds (2 clichés in one sentence!). By that, I mean that United obviously have a choice: provided they don't concede a goal they're through, so on the one hand they'll be inclined to defend.
On the other hand, if they score once, we have to score three (I know I'm rehashing old ground here).
But my hope, is that they're not sure whether to defend or attack; so they'll try ball retention in the middle of the field whilst playing pretty aimlessly. If that happens, we can capitalise.
They won't really know whether they're attacking or defending and in trying to acquire the best of both worlds, they won't really manage either.
My main worry, is not that we'll concede an early goal. Tactically, the strongest thing we can do is work them for an hour and make sure we keep it tight - if we score, great; if we don't we can lay siege to their goal in the last quarter where I can assure you, they'll have a defensive outlook if it's still 1-0 on aggregate.
The worry, is the reaction of the crowd: we don't need to get restless if it's goalless after an hour; we need to raise the volume another level. It's in the last twenty minutes where a tiring United can be exploited: our biggest strength is our fitness and in a tight Champions League semi-final, if Theo can get some space it will make things very interesting.
People might have glossed over the fact Evra is on a yellow card: if there's ten minutes left, he'll be able to sense a Champions League final is coming; so he may not tackle Walcott because he's worried he'll miss the final. If a defender shows uncertainty against Theo, I'm sure he can take advantage.
Ultimately, strikers like RVP and Adebayor won't generally score you 30 goals each in a season. What they can do, is provide occasional moments of brilliance. And moments such as those define Champions League semi-finals. For all Ade was slated for his performance in the first leg, the only thing he did differently away to Villareal was score a great goal.
Every Gooner will forgive him if he fires us to Rome - it's a chance for the players to make heroes of themselves.
And they will. They will. The Grove has needed a glory night to define it as a stadium. It might just get one.
Keep the faith,