Enigmatic Zaragoza are a team with two minds

Trevor Haylett on the Spaniards who stand in the Gunners' path in Paris tonight
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The Independent Online
The question of whether Arsenal can bring home the Cup-Winners' Cup for a second successive season is probably best answered in the Spanish psyche. As Chelsea discovered in the semi-final, Real Zaragoza can be brilliant when they put their minds to it. Equally, as they showed in the Stamford Bridge return two weeks later, they can be brittle as well.

The way some of their supporters who had followed them to London reacted while watching the penalty shoot-out in Genoa suggests that many would have preferred to be facing Sampdoria in Paris this evening. Certainly, when confronted by the traditional British virtues of indomitable spirit allied to mental toughness, there was little to justify the Zaragoza coach's proud boast that "there are not many clubs who can play better than us."

If it comes down to a contest of skill, then Zaragoza would probably come through. Their understanding of team play and the ability to retain possession while looking for runs into space is highly impressive. Then again, a year ago we made the mistake of assuming that talent alone would be enough to give Parma victory over the Highbury men.

This time, thanks to their magnificent recovery against Sampdoria, Arsenal have earned the right to be favourites. However, they are never more stubborn than when they go in as underdogs, so it could prove to the benefit of the Spaniards, winners of the old Inter-Cities Fairs' Cup in 1964 but with little recent European pedigree. Recently, though, they have been reviving at home and are regarded as the best footballing side in Spain.

Juan Esnaider, the elusive Argentinian, has been likened to Ian Wright for his intolerance with refereeing decisions - and like the Englishman he has the ability to decide the tie. In Steve Bould's absence and with the pacy Francisco Higuera a lethal distraction alongside, Esnaider promises to find the spaces to cause Arsenal harm.

Nayim, the former Tottenham midfielder, has the guile to upset Arsenal's plans. He says the game will provide a welcome opportunity to press his side's claims to fame: "We are recognised within Spain but this is our chance to perform on a big stage and show Europe the sort of attacking football we play."

So pleased has Victor Fernandez, at 34 the youngest coach in the Spanish First Division, been with his side, who currently lie third in the table, that Cafu, the Brazilian World Cup wingback, has scarcely figured since his transfer from So Paulo in January.

They are sprinkled with internationals, including Alberto Belsue, the attacking right-back, and the Argentinian stopper, Fernando Caceres, who are both part of a hardened, experienced rearguard which relies on a zonal marking system rather than a sweeper.

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