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Baton Rouge



Journalists love eras. They love epochs too. They also love regimes and dynasties. The reason why they love them so much is because they also love ushering. They can't resist the opportunity to usher in a new era or epoch while ushering out old regimes or dynasties. It gives them the chance to get all Churchillian, to heave out the gravitas and pronounce in reverential tones the passing of an age . Yes, journalists love ages too and Tuesday's Champions League match between Arsenal and Milan allowed Fleet Street the opportunity to dust off their finest lyrics and get waxing.

In the black corner are European Champions Milan with their aging, creaking squad and in the red, the young gunners of Arsenal. Sharp footed, quick witted extollers of the beautiful game. The Gunner's victory was the perfect example of the media's love of new dawns (Fabregas comes of age) and fading stars (Maldini, venerable, vulnerable, dignified and finished).

The players had barely left the field at the San Siro before ITV commentator Clive Tyldesley (no stranger to hyperbole himself) declared that a baton had been passed between the generations. The following day the press were happy to declare the match a pivotal, Earth shattering, epoch starting end of an era and dawn of a new age rolled into one.

"The old masters undone by a young Arsenal team who announced themselves in stunning style upon the European stage last night" declared Sam Wallace of the Independent. "The flourish by Arsenal in the final 10 minutes seemed to be ushering these greats of European football gently towards retirement... If life at the top is over for this great Milan team, it is surely just starting for Arsenal."

"Even the locals stood to acknowledge Arsenal before the end." said Martin Samuels of the Times "Spontaneous bursts of applause greeting another round of fleet-footed passing, as Arsène Wenger’s young team steered the match gently to its resting place, safely beyond AC Milan’s reach."

"When football coaches ever talk about the quintessential all-round performance, they will reach up to the shelf and bring down the DVD of Fabregas last night to illustrate the words." according the Sun's Steven Howard "The Milanese crowd, one of the most perceptive in the business, knew they had witnessed something special."

"Europe will watch to see if Arsenal, a team built on youth, can rise to the challenge of establishing themselves as the continent's new dominant power." pronounced The Guardian's Richard Williams.

Tim Rich of the Telegraph went even further by comparing Wenger's side to a lost generation, and making himself look like a twat in the process:

"It was on this stage that an Arsenal side, most of whom were not born when Maldini made his professional debut, showed themselves to be men... Fifty years ago a Manchester United side shattered by the experiences of Munich came to the San Siro and were overwhelmed 4-0. The spirit of the Busby Babes lives on - and not just in Manchester."

One of the methods the football media use to keep us all interested is to portray the game as constantly moving forward, never stopping, and never reaching a conclusion. Trophy's may be won and players may come and go but old scores never really get settled because there is always next week, next season or next epoch. However, certain games provide us with an opportunity to draw a line and leave a little note in the margin stating that from this point, things changed a bit. Milan v Arsenal was such a game.

Real life is different of course and football, occasionally, is compelled to obey the same laws of time and physicality as the rest of us. Rarely will one single game change the fortunes of a club in such a way. It is worth pointing out to any Martians who have just arrived that Arsenal were one of the best teams in the Champions League in 2006. They beat Juventus and Real Madrid before losing in the final to the only team in the tournament who were better in Barcelona.

Cynics may, and probably have, pointed out that Arsenal's style of play is excessive and lacking an end result. That without Eduardo or van Persie to provide a focal point for their attacks, Arsenal are like George Lazenby's shirts in On Her Majesties Secret Service... too frilly. One could argue that a felled tree could have got down quicker for Fabregas' shot than Milan 'keeper and 50's throwback Zeljko Kalac. Despite Arsenal's dominance, the result could have been quite different.

Nevertheless, the truth is that Arsenal played well and got what they deserved. They may well go on to win the European Cup. If they do, it will be the culmination of years of hard work plus a slow and at times painful transformation into a proper European club. Winning in Milan is significant and extremely good for the morale of the team. However, its not some line in the sand, year zero, coming of age sort of event. That stuff only happens in films and bad ones at that.

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