Football: Graham drawing on British spirit: Arsenal's Scottish manager believes they have the commitment to counter Italians' finesse. Joe Lovejoy reports from Copenhagen

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The Independent Online
MAYBE it was Alex Ferguson's latest triumph, or perhaps Jeremy Beadle's presence on the plane made us all game for a wind-up. Whatever the reason, the talk here is not so much of Arsenal doing it for England as George Graham striking another blow for the Scottish school of hard knocks.

Victory over Parma in tonight's Cup-Winners' Cup final would bring Graham his first European trophy and complete a full set for the manager who has won every domestic honour in his eight years at Highbury.

Arsenal have been hit hard by injury and a suspension, and the odds must favour the Italian holders, who beat Royal Antwerp by a convincing 3-1 margin in last year's final.

Graham, though, is confident that the traditional British characteristics his team embody, and the unswerving self-belief of their Scottish manager, will enable them to make light of the absence of Ian Wright, John Jensen and Martin Keown, and do England proud.

All three would have had significant roles tonight - Wright as principal goalscorer, Jensen tying up the midfield and Keown man-marking the dangerous Italian, Gianfranco Zola - but Arsenal have accepted their loss with equanimity, satisfied that the gung-ho spirit which saw off a more gifted Paris St-Germain team in the semi-finals will again prevail.

Graham will not hear a word to the contrary, and has become adept at shutting his ears to the downbeat and the disagreeable. Imperviousness to criticism was a trait which served the Scots well.

Was it mere coincidence that the three most successful managers in England all came from north of the border? He thought not. 'If you look at Alex (Ferguson), Kenny (Dalglish) or myself now, or the likes of Jock Stein, Bill Shankly and Matt Busby in the past, we were all working-class lads who never had it too easy at home. That toughens you up for the real world. It drives you on.

'The Scots are a passionate race. There have been some great Scottish managers, and they have all been passionate about the game. We're also very single-minded, which you have to be if you're going to be successful in this game.'

Advice, and the bad press he gets over Arsenal's long-ball style, tends to be taken with the same pinch of the white stuff.

'Television gives football so much exposure these days that everyone fancies themselves as the manager of Arsenal or Manchester United. They all feel they can do the job better than us. The thing is, they are dealing purely in fantasy football. They will never have to pick a team that plays in the League, or in Europe. I do. Everybody offers me advice, and that's where my single-mindedness comes into it.

'Like all Scottish managers, I suffer from tunnel vision. I know where I'm going, and I don't deviate. I get people coming up with ideas all the time, and I just knock them away. If there is something worth keeping, I'll store it in my memory for use some other time.

'Talking to people, you can be bored stiff for 59 minutes of an hour-long conversation. The knack is to recognise the one piece of common sense that can be useful.

'Successful managers know where they are going. I get criticised all the time for being unhelpful and uncooperative, but I do keep on winning the silverware.'

It seems we can safely assume that 'my way' will again be Graham's text for the night which, on the evidence of previous rounds, points to a more composed, close-passing game than we get from the high-elevation Gunners in the Premier League.

With three men already out, they can ill-afford to lose David Hillier, who tests a badly bruised leg at lunch-time, but if Hillier plays, as he probably, will, Parma may find themselves trapped in the midfield mesh which netted the ball players of Torino and PSG.

The Italians are stronger, and Arsenal will have to be at their bristling best to keep their foreign legion at bay. Sweden's Thomas Brolin and Faustino Asprilla, of Colombia, are an odd couple - one straight as a David Platt, the other making Gazza look Major grey - but they speak a common language which needs no translation. Both can do enough with a football to turn the match into a rout unless their markers stick shoe-horn tight.

Fortunately, when it comes to defence, Arsenal have every reason to be confident. Tony Adams is in towering form, an inspiration to all those around him, and if anyone can subdue Asprilla and Company, Captain Colossus can.

Such doubts as there are about England's standard-bearers are more to do with the penetration of a forward line shorn of Wright's disconcerting pace.

In his absence, much is expected of Paul Merson who, alone among the rest, is blessed with Wright's flair for the unexpected.

The final word belongs to the membership secretary of the Caledonian clan. 'Continental coaches are afraid of the British mentality, and with us they've every right to be. It will be a tough game, but my players are at their best when they are up against it. They've responded well in the past, and I believe they'll do so this time.'

A persuasive case. Arsenal to win. For England.

Arsenal (probable): Seaman; Dixon, Adams, Bould, Winterburn, Merson, Davis, Hillier, Selley, Campbell, Smith.

Parma (probable): Bucci; Sensini, Apolloni, Minotti, Benarrivo, Crippa, Pin, Di Chiara, Brolin, Asprilla, Zola.

(Photograph omitted)

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