By Trevor Haylett in London
Chelsea FC manager Claudio Ranieri admitted his joy was unconfined after his side reached the UEFA Champions League semi-finals for the first time through a late Wayne Bridge goal at Highbury.
'More than happy'
"I was mad," said the Chelsea manager, describing his visible feelings at the final whistle. "I was more than happy, I had 30 seconds of delirium." The entire Chelsea squad had cause for great celebration after defeating an Arsenal FC team who had remained unbeaten against them through an incredible run of 17 games. But with all the rumour that has surrounded Ranieri's position this season it was an especially sweet moment for the Italian.
He poured praise on his team who had to come from behind after José Antonio Reyes opened the scoring for the home team. "Our team spirit was very important, I have players who possess fantastic character," Ranieri said. "They never give up and now I hope this great victory will give us a lot of confidence."
Could this victory have an impact in the Premiership title race, where Chelsea have moved to within four points of unbeaten Arsenal? "I would have to touch wood before I speak," he said. "But we must believe in ourselves and continue working hard."
Chelsea now meet AS Monaco FC, led by Didier Deschamps, a Stamford Bridge old boy. Ranieri said he was sorry that Real Madrid CF had not triumphed "because I know them very well but if Monaco have won it is because they are a good team with a good manager".
Bridge said he had not expected to be the hero of the night but added: "We have been positive all week and everyone had a good feeling about the game.
Even when we went 1-0 down we still felt we could do it."
Frank Lampard, whose goal early in the second half cancelled out Reyes' opener for Arsenal, described it as "the best night of my career so far". He added: "Reaching the semi-final is a great result and we have to believe we can win it."
Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger could not hide his disappointment after seeing his club's treble dream reduced to a single Premiership target in the space of four days after Saturday’s FA Cup exit against Manchester United FC. And the Frenchman identified the equaliser as the turning point.
'We got distorted'
"We knew we had to score again but also that if Chelsea scored again it would kill us," Wenger said. "We did not deal with that and we got distorted between defending well and going forward.
We had a very good first half but could not kill the game off."
Wenger said this was the most disappointing of his team's departures from the Champions League. "Chelsea play Monaco now and you know they have a very good chance of reaching the final, I would put it at 80-20 in their favour. That makes it more disappointing for us but we have to pick ourselves up. It will be difficult but we have to show that quality and togetherness."
His team will have to try and accomplish that in the short term without Thierry Henry, who picked up a hamstring strain and is likely to miss their next two league fixtures. Patrick Vieira summed up Arsenal's determination to claim the Premiership, saying: "We have got to win something because we deserve to win something."
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