If one has to endure an international break after just three matches of the Premier League season then the insertion of a legends match proved to be an inspired idea yesterday. A very mixed crowd with lots of families in attendance enjoyed the opportunity to take in the match between some of Arsenal and Milan’s biggest names of the last thirty or so years. Take a bow, the Arsenal Foundation.
The match itself provided a breath of fresh air from the tensions present in recent fixtures. The tone was set early by Marc Overmars who hit a fierce drive over the bar and brought a save out of Christian Abbiati. Those efforts bookended a Christian Vieri effort blocked away for a corner by Kolo Toure. The pace of play may have been a yard or two slower than we are used to seeing, but the quality of the passing by both sides was warmly appreciated by a near sell-out crowd.
The feel good factor around the stands was replicated on the pitch, bar one challenge from behind by Pascal Cygan on a disgruntled Vieri. Arsenal had the better of the opening half hour and produced the move of the match, a succession of passes to set up Robert Pires who just missed the target. He was also narrowly wide with a headed effort. At the other end Vieri was again denied by the Gunners captain in the first-half, David Seaman.
The reward the hosts deserved came as the half hour neared when Manu Petit’s deflected cross found the head of the ageless Kanu and he diverted the ball back into the corner of the net. There was a moment of pure comedy as Nigel Winterburn and Paolo di Canio recreated the coming together when the Italian had pushed the referee to the ground on a heated afternoon at Hillsborough in 1998.
There was a degree of inevitability about the ever-willing Vieri scoring an equaliser, and he bundled the ball home after Seaman had made a fine reaction save from Massimo Ambrosini. The Arsenal goalkeeper was relieved to see a volley clear his crossbar as the half drew to a close.
After the break both sides continued to rotate at will which kept the game flowing and enabled these warriors of yesteryear to catch their breath. Gilberto Silva (how good was it to see him in an Arsenal shirt again?) Angled a drive just past the far post as the Gunners set about regaining control. They achieved just that when Kanu went bravely in for a diving header from a Luis Boa Morte free-kick.
The Nigerian completed his hat-trick from the penalty spot after Robert Pires took a tumble in the box. Six minutes from time three became four. Freddie Ljungberg and Pires rolled back the years when the former broke down the right and crossed for the French genius to score at the far post.
Milan were not finished and gained a measure of consolation when Daniele Massaro threw himself to the floor in front of a bemused Cygan. Jens Lehmann saved Vieri’s spot-kick superbly but the striker was first to the rebound and the German was unable to deny him a second time.
The match raised a million pounds for the Arsenal Foundation to provide football pitches for youngsters in areas of conflict, and locally. It gave generations of Gooners a chance to see, either again or for the first time, some of the best players in Europe in recent decades. It was a day to savour and enjoy to the full.
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