Date: 29th February 2012 at 4:12pm
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Having delved into the archives to pontificate on Arsenal`s first European triumph in 1970, it would take Arsenal a further 24 years to once again toast the continent. Following that glorious Fairs Cup victory in 1970, the Gunners tumbled out of the competition as holders in 1971 at the Quarter Final stage, losing on away goals to F.C. Koln. Following their Double win in 1971, they earned a shot at the European Cup, only to succumb to Johan Cruyff`s Ajax in the Quarter Finals.

Forays into Europe became rare thereafter. Mediocrity had set in by the mid 70s when Arsenal often looked more likely to be relegated than finish in a sufficient league position to qualify. The F.A. Cup win in 1979 did give them a tilt at the Cup Winners Cup, which tragically ended with a penalty shoot out defeat to Valencia in the Final in Brussels. The ban imposed on English sides in European competition in light of the Heysel disaster meant a League Cup win in 1987, nor the last ditch title win in 1989 were rewarded with ventures overseas. But it was another European exit that would prove pivotal in the reign of George Graham. His Championship winning side of 1991 were dismantled by Benfica in the European Cup, which led Graham to adopt a more stifling, negative style.

It meant Arsenal became a cup team for the remainder of his reign- as exemplified by their qualification for the Cup Winners Cup for the 1993-94 season. In fact, Arsenal technically qualified for the UEFA Cup too having won the League Cup and the F.A. Cup in the same season- the first side ever to do so. The summer of 1993 was one of both on pitch and off pitch upheaval. The new all seater North Bank was by now in place, as the Clock End slowly submerged from scaffolding and rubble into a sea of 6,000 red seats. Highbury was now all seater. The North Bank wasn`t the only relic bidding farewell to N5; as the club`s longest serving player and record appearance holder David O`Leary left for Leeds United.

Graham had sold fan favourite David Rocastle one year earlier and in a portent hint of the workmanlike philosophy his side would adapt, Graham signed Eddie McGoldrick from Crystal Palace. He was the long term replacement for another creative terrace darling Anders Limpar, who would be sold during that season. “McGoldrick was a runner, but not a winger,” Limpar would aptly surmise some years later. A lack of goals had hampered Arsenal the season before, scoring only 40 goals en route to a 10th placed finish. Though the creative players were given short shrift, graham began to experiment with a three man forward line, with Wright flanked by Merson and Smith / Campbell. This would prove particularly effective in Europe. Though they would eventually finish in a respectable 4th place (which didn`t have the caveat of Champions League football and therefore, wasn`t considered a trophy!), the club would also set a record by drawing 17 times in their league campaign. This, bearing in mind that the domestic season comprised 42 games.

The tournament contained potentially tough opposition. Real Madrid, Benfica, Ajax Amsterdam, the previous year`s winners Parma and the cash rich Paris Saint Germain were all amongst the bookmaker`s favourites. In the First Round, Arsenal were given a relatively gentle introduction to the Cup Winners Cup by drawing Danish side Odense Boldklub. Odense were just exiting something of a golden era of their history having enjoyed their best ever run of success in the 80s. Arsenal had begun the season with gusto and sat second in the Premier League on goal difference when they visited TRE-FOR Park next to the Odense River for the first leg. A league engagement with league leaders Manchester United lay on the horizon at Old Trafford that weekend and it seemed to be in the largesse of Arsenal minds when they went behind to a Martin Keown own goal. However, the irrepressible Ian Wright scrambled home an untidy equaliser ten minutes before half time to grab a precious away goal. Paul Merson`s chip half way through the second half ensured the Gunners came back to Highbury with a 2-1 lead.

The second leg was something of a lacklustre affair. The Danes never really believed they could overhaul their hosts, whilst the home side foreshadowed an October which saw four consecutive games without a goal. (I recall in the 4th of these games- I believe a dire 0-0 draw with Manchester City, a banner was unfurled in the North Bank which read ‘Give the Suckers Their Money Back.` A pithy reference to the Bond Scheme which had distanced the club from its fans). Kevin Campbell`s goal shortly after half time made the tie unassailable to Odense, rendering future Spurs midfielder Allan Nielsen`s late goal largely irrelevant.

Having hit some unconvincing league form and exited the League Cup at the first hurdle to Aston Villa at Highbury, the prospect of Standard Liege in the Second Round looked a more daunting one. Liege had knocked out Cardiff City in the previous round. However, Liege were at something of a crossroads in their history. The 1993 Belgian Cup- which qualified them for the tournament; was the only silverware the club picked up between 1982-2007. The Belgian club had been implicated and found guilty in 1983 of bribing opponents to ‘go easy` on them in the build up to a European Cup tie with Real Madrid. The resulting heavy fine meant they were forced to sell their best players and entered a generation of wilderness as a result.

The opening of the first leg at Highbury was notably cagey, with Arsenal`s shot shy form clear for all to see. But on 39 minutes, Martin Keown`s searching ball pierced the heart of the Liege defence and Ian Wright stole in to head Arsenal into the lead. “It`s in there” declared legendary ITV commentator Brian Moore. This was a midweek competition and my Mum was still apprehensive of allowing me to attend games on weeknights, so many of my memories of the cup run are sound tracked by Moore`s satanic growl. Arsenal opened up, their confidence flowering in the second period. A Merson shot just after the interval gave the home side a 2-0 win, before a typically sourced Ian right goal- a one on one, practically killed the tie in advance of the trip to Belgium.

Graham was so sure of the result; he opted to leave Ian Wright- carrying a yellow card- out of the second leg. In a season where Wright registered 23 of Arsenal`s 53 league goals, off the back of a barren scoring run- it looked like a risky decision. A significant off the pitch decision was made for the 2nd Leg too. Vice chairman David Dein had proffered the idea of jumbotron screens in the corners of Highbury- an idea lifted from the States. They made their debut during the 93-94 season and Dein went as far as to negotiate that some of Arsenal`s away games be screened there with an admission price charged. ITV opted not to show the 2nd Leg so a few thousand hardy souls watched the team`s travails on the continent from their padded North bank seats.

Though in the long term, the gamble to leave Wright out would have consequences further down the line; in the short term it seemed to liberate an Arsenal team who had slowly begun to function parasitically on Wright`s thirst for goals. Alan Smith opened the scoring after just 2 minutes, which entirely killed Liege`s enthusiasm for the tie. The floodgates were flung open. Young hopeful Ian Selley- who begun to impose himself on the first team picture- added a second on 20 minutes. Adams and Campbell made it 4-0 before half time. There was no letting up in the second half either; Merson added a fifth before making way for McGoldrick. Two buccaneering runs down the wing yielded two more goals, as the ex Palace man first set up Campbell and then smashed a fulminating cross shot in off the bar to complete a 7-0 rout and a comprehensive 10-0 aggregate victory. Shades of the 1970 side`s 9-1 win over Dinamo Bacau were evident. Liege coach Arnie Haan promptly resigned.

But the Quarter Final was guaranteed to prompt a tougher tie with Real Madrid, PSG, Benfica, Ajax, Torino, Parma and Bayer Leverkusen all in the pot. The Gunners drew Italian opposition in the shape of Turin`s Torino side- who had beaten Aberdeen in the previous round. Torino were in their 90s pomp at this stage, having only lost the 1992 UEFA Cup Final on away goals to Ajax. In the summer of 93 they had lost star striker Walter Casagrande and lynchpin centre half Pasquale Bruno, but coach Emiliano Mondonico had astutely replaced the goals of Casagrande with Serie A top scorer at the time Andrea Silenzi (who would later endure a terrible spell with Nottingham Forest) who played upfront alongside the more nimble Benito Carbone. Croatian midfielder Robert Jarni was their captain.

Graham opted for a stifling 4-5-1 formation for the first leg in Stadio delle Alpi. David Hillier was annexed into the midfield to stifle Jarni, whilst Wright was omitted in favour of Alan Smith- deployed as a lone front man. Silenzi headed a gift of a cross wide when unmarked from 8 yards wide, whilst Seaman almost fumbled Jarni`s long range strike into his own net before recovering his hands in time. But the Gunners had got the 0-0 they had patently come for. However, Graham`s preference for tight away legs made home legs nerve shredding affairs with the implications concession of an away goal would have. This is where the famous back 5 came to the fore.

Speaking after his retirement, right back Lee Dixon would say of that famed unit,
I was fortunate to play in an Arsenal back line that earned itself a reputation as being OK. I’m not trying to be overly modest in saying that, as individuals, we weren’t the best players in the world. But certainly all my weaknesses were compensated for by Tony Adams, Nigel Winterburn, Martin Keown and Steve Bould, and vice versa. If one of us wasn’t playing well, the others picked up the slack.’ They had undoubtedly become the cornerstone of Graham`s Arsenal side as the more creative elements of the team were slowly ebbed away. In fairness, Graham did seem aware of the lack of creativity. He reinstated Paul Davis at around this time after a two year exile in the Reserves. Ian Selley was a promising young central midfielder who was being groomed to be Davis` successor. An horrific leg break (which I was sat 10 yards away from and I can tell you, I heard the crack of the bone) in February 95 essentially curtailed a meaningful career.

Jensen, Davis and Hillier were selected in midfield for the second leg, with Merson supporting Wright and Smith. Due to a quirk in the rules of European competition that persisted until 2002, Arsenal played at Highbury in their yellow change strip. (Home sides were given first priority in what kit selections should be for reasons that remain unclear). An incredibly cagey game ensued in which neither side created anything of note. That was until the 68th minute. A foul on Merson gave Arsenal a free kick next to the right hand touchline. Paul Davis jogged over to apply his gracile left foot to the delivery. Tony Adams snuck in unmarked on the back post to guide the ball into the corner via the tip of his side parting. He duly rearranged the parting in celebration. Torino applied the pressure in a fraught final twenty minutes. A goal would have knocked Arsenal out, but their rearguard stood firm. Arsenal were through to the semi finals.

Parma defeated Ajax, Benfica won a barmy tie with Bayer Leverkusen on away goals- the second leg saw the lead change three times in the last ten minutes and Paris Saint Germain underlined their credentials by defeating Real Madrid. The Gunners drew the Parisian side, undefeated in any competition for 35 consecutive games. The French club had undergone heavy investment having been bought by television channel Canal +, which saw them attract players such as Brazil captain Rai, Valdo, George Weah, David Ginola and Alain Roche. PSG comfortable won Ligue 1 that season and also went on to win the Cup Winners up in 1996. Though coach Artur Jorge sprung a major surprise by leaving Liberian world beater Weah out of both legs.

Arsenal once again opted for defensive rigour in the first leg at Parc des Princes. But in a carbon copy of the goal that defeated Torino in the Quarter Final, Arsenal took a one goal lead late in the first half. Once again, Davis provided the delivery. The Parisians tried to play an unsuccessful offside trap, leaving Ian Wright to glance the free kick past Bernard Lama. At half time, Saint Germain played Pet Shop Boys` cover of Village People`s ‘Go West`, which the home fans responded to by chanting “Allez Paris Saint Germain.” The travelling contingent mischievously took over with the cry of “1-0 t the Arsenal” which audibly annoyed their hosts. A new chant was born. Ginola, the second future Spurs player to register against Arsenal in the tournament that season, scored from a tight angle to equalise, but Arsenal took PSG back to Highbury with a slender away goal advantage.

Arsenal were given reason to air the chant again at Highbury when Kevin Campbell smashed a firm shot in off the post mid way through the first half. What followed was possibly the most finger chewing, stomach knotting 70 minutes of football I have ever experienced at Highbury. (My mum relented on my midweek ban on this occasion). The likes of Valdo, Rai and Ginola laid siege on the Arsenal goal- or tried to anyway. But they found themselves repelled by the Gunners back line. I recall my 9 year old heart leaping into my mouth when David Seaman messed up an attempted bowl out to Winterburn and instead chucked the ball straight at the feet of Valdo 35 yards from goal. An expertly executed tackle by Steve Bould recanted the danger. But at the end of the first half, Ian Wright lost the ball on the half way line. As it trickled into PSG`s right back position, Wright chased down Alain Roche and scythed him down from behind.

Wright was one yellow card shy of a suspension and the referee duly obliged, despite Wright sinking to his knees to beg redemption. He was booked and would miss the final in the event of Arsenal qualifying. He blubbered uncontrollably, his bottom lip trembling and his face folded into a frown. At half time Wright took his anger out on the marble interior of the home dressing room, smashing cups and flinging boots. Graham ordered him into the shower to cool off. “Go have your shower cry baby” he is alleged to have said. As he towelled off, his captain Tony Adams quietly reminded him that there wouldn`t be a final to miss if he didn`t collect himself.

Arsenal held on in a tense second half for a famous victory. The Highbury tannoy blasted out ‘Go West` in response. In the other semi final, Parma edged out Benfica. Luminaries such as Gianfranco Zola, Roberto Sensini and Manuel Rui Coast had been on the score sheet across that tie. That was the level of competition Arsenal were dealing with. They would play Nevio Scala`s Parma in the final in Copenhagen`s Parken Stadium. Finally, the British press were forced to take the Gunners` sojourn seriously. England`s failure to qualify for the 1994 World Cup, as well as Manchester United`s first round European Cup exit at the hands of Galatasary had occupied them. To this point, plucky Norwich City`s shock UEFA Cup victory over Bayern Munchen had been considered the English fairytale abroad. (Two Dennis Bergkamp goals ensured Inter knocked them out in the following round).

Parma were huge favourites. As with PSG, they had enjoyed an early 90s cash injection when catering company Parmalat took them over. This funded the purchases of the likes of Tino Asprilla, Tomas Brolin, Massimo Crippa and Gianfranco Zola. Parma were aiming to become the first side to retain the Cup Winners Cup- four previous sides had failed in proceeding finals as holders. (Arsenal would become the sixth in 1995 to fail). This was also an era of Italian dominance. In 1993 A.C. Milan won the European Cup, Inter the UEFA Cup and Parma the Cup Winners` Cup. (A year later, Parma would contest and lose the UEFA Cup Final to Juventus).

But the Gunners had history on their side. Their three previous ties with Italian sides- Lazio in 1970, Juventus in 1980 and Torino in the Quarter Finals- resulted in famous victories. (Sampdoria would join the list a year later). That said, Arsenal would be without the suspended Wright, whilst Seaman and Winterburn would have to play with pain killing injections. Graham opted for Merson and Campbell in wide positions flanking Smith- with Campbell and Merson morphing into midfielders when Parma had possession. Young Ian Selley was a surprise inclusion- though with injuries ruling Jensen and Keown out, Graham was not left with much recourse with Steve Morrow also in midfield. Selley turned in a performance that far defied his years. What a shame that injury blighted his career to such an extent that the UEFA website today lists his inclusion in the starting line up under the name ‘Paul Selley.`

Parma were an attacking tour de force with Asprilla, the main forward, playing just in front of Zola and Brolin. Gabriele Pin was a danger on the right flank, whilst at the back, Italy captain Antonio Bennarivo and Argentine skipper Roberto Sensini were an imposing presence. Parma threatened to overrun Arsenal in the opening exchanges. Zola nudged the ball to Brolin inside the area. The Swede lined up a shot which smacked the inside of the post, rolled along the line before dribbling out to safety. But Arsenal collected themselves and moved into a 1-0 lead on 19 minutes. Lee Dixon sent a cross in from the right, Minotti elected to clear with an unnecessarily ostentatious bicycle kick. It fell straight to Smith, who chest trapped it before slamming a left foot volley in off the post. Whereas Brolin`s shot had hit the inside of the post and come out, Smudger`s hit the inside of the post and dribbled in. Such are the fickle arrows of serendipity upon which legends are built.

Having already tried our nerve endings by keeping the likes of Carbone, Silenzi, Ginola, Rai and Valdo at bay in later rounds, the Gunners back five would achieve its finest hour, repelling the collective talents of Brolin, Zola and Asprilla. Pin had a goal disallowed with 5 minutes remaining, whilst Seaman executed an heroic stop from a Zola header. Steve Bould in particular shone like a beacon that night. But the Gunners unbreachable rearguard once again held out. The chant “1-0 to the Arsenal” was given new credence. (The club latched on, naming their 1993-94 season review VHS after it). They became the fourth London side to nab the Cup Winners Cup after West Ham, Chelsea and Tottenham.

With Wright suspended, it was a night for unlikely heroes. For Alan Smith, it was a last moment in the sunlight. On the Ian Wright Legend DVD, Wright is philosophical about his suspension for the Final. “It just wasn`t meant to be,” tellingly adding, “I was made up that Smudger got the winner, cos I took everything from him.” After Wright`s arrival, Smith`s goals dried up as he became a mechanism to feed Wright`s insatiable appetite for goals. The next season saw Smudger afflicted with a back injury that would force his early retirement. One of Arsenal`s most underrated sons had his moment in the son. Likewise, through a mixture of international recognition and infamy, Tony Adams is always remembered as the defensive fulcrum of the side, but Steve Bould took the man of the match award home that night and even earned one of his two England caps that summer as a result of a masterly performance in the final.

It seems strange to say it now, ensconced as we are in the Wenger era, but Graham`s great triumph in the 1993-94 Cup Winners Cup seemed to be the ultimate vindication for our style. Labelled as boring, dull and defensive, the supporters defiantly took to that tag- as evidenced by the chant coined during that cup run. History regards it as the finest hour for the famous back five (though some five seasons later, that unit would concede far less goals without the caveat of winning a trophy). But in hindsight, it probably convinced Graham more than ever to adopt a drab, workmanlike team. Yet the statistics showed that Wright only scored 4 of Arsenal`s 17 goals in the competition (equal top scorer with Kevin Campbell). Wright missed three of the games, which meant a more collaborative, focussed effort won through.

The next season saw Graham err. With Smith injured, Campbell falling out of favour, Davis advancing in years, Selley injured, Limpar sold and Merson in rehab, the team became so Wright-centric that the supporters even began to sing, “It`s Ian Wright F.C. by far the greatest team, the world has ever seen.” To emphasise the point, when Arsenal got to the final again in 1995, Wright had scored in every single round. (He even tried desperately to steal John Hartson`s equaliser in the final on the goal line). At the time it felt as though Graham was building a team worthy of a sustained stab at the league title again. Arsenal were the bookmakers favourites for the Premier League title in the summer of 1994. (We eventually finished 12th). In reality, it was the last trophy Graham ever won at Arsenal. A career both as a player that took in 3 League titles, 2 F.A. Cps, 2 League Cups, 1 Fairs Cup and this, one of his most tactically satisfying. The Cup Winners Cup. The year of 1-0 to the Arsenal. LD.