Torino. . 0
(Arsenal win 1-0 on aggregate)
FAINT-HEARTED fans flinched and certain critics had begun to sneer, but Arsenal kept the red flag flying in Europe last night when they reached the semi-finals of the European Cup-Winners' Cup, courtesy of a typically emphatic header from that very epitome of the Highbury spirit, Tony Adams.
It was the Ides of March, and George Graham, who sees plotters even where there are none, had good reason to beware Italian visitors who defended with characteristic resolution and proved frustratingly hard to break down.
Cometh the hour, cometh the big man. Nerves were fraying, time ebbing away when, with 66 minutes played, Adams plunged in at the far post to bury a Paul Davis free-kick with a firm downward nod of that ramrod forehead.
It had taken a typical Arsenal goal to settle a typical European tie - a real slow burner which only caught fire when the home side raised the pace in the second half.
Graham had warned that it would be tight, and so it was. The perimeter boards were advertising Jiffy Condoms, which was entirely appropriate. The preventive work was second to none.
As expected, the Italians played a cat-and-mouse game, defending in numbers and seeking the one goal they knew would be sufficient on the break. The strategy was always going to be a dangerous one against the most parsimonious back four in England, and it never looked like succeeding. David Seaman was not called upon to make a single save.
Arsenal had to be patient and guard against the concession of a score which would have left them vulnerable to the away goals rule and, as in the barren stalemate in Turin, it was cagey stuff, more like chess than the blood and thunder of domestic cup football.
Torino's minimalist attitude was betrayed by the omission of Robert Jarni, their clever Croatian midfielder, whose forays down the left made him their best player in the goalless first game. Jarni's relegation to the bench - temporary though it proved - was all the more surprising in view of the absence of the insidious Benito Carbone, injured.
What they lacked in craft, the Italians made up for in muscularity. Enzo Francescoli had warned that they adopted a more physical approach away from their Alpine fastness, and there was early evidence of their aggressive intent when an over-the-top tackle from Andrea Silenzi had David Hillier limping off to have stitches inserted in a nasty ankle wound. Arsenal replied in kind and Giorgio Venturin gave way to Jarni after a real clattering from Davis.
Graham deployed Paul Merson in a roving role, roaming all across the front line in an attempt to confuse the Torino defenders. The Italians are too adept at marking to fall for that one, but Merson was the biggest - make that the only - threat until Adams' decisive intervention.
With the exception of three bookings - Franciscoli, Ian Selley and Angelo Gregucci - the first half was a non-event. The second saw Arsenal up the tempo to good effect, and Nigel Winterburn demanded a decent save from Giovanni Galli before the goal arrived.
Torino were not good enough to respond. The nearest they came was when a rare lapse in concentration by Adams let in Silenzi, who was thwarted by Seaman's well-timed dash from his line.
Arsenal kept the initiative to the end, and Ian Wright warmed Galli's fingers with one incursion before another panicked Gregucci into a foot-up obstruction which brought him the red card, two minutes from the end, for the second of two bookable offences.
Glory, glory Gunners. There was only the briefest pause in the celebrations when news of Benfica's arrival in the last four conjured dark memories of how Arsenal's last European adventure ended in tears two years ago.
Arsenal (4-3-3): Seaman; Gibson, Adams, Bould, Winterburn; Jensen (Keown, 87), Hillier (Selley, 15), Davis; Wright, Smith, Merson.
Torino (3-5-2): Galli; Fortunato, Annoni, Gregucci; Sinigaglia (Poggi, 71), Cois, Venturin (Jarni, 26), Fusi, Mussi; Silenzi, Francescoli.
Referee: J Blankenstein (Netherlands).Reuse content