Football: Graham looks to put lessons of history into practice: Arsenal exhorted to fly flag as they take guard against Italian counter-thrusts

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The Independent Online
HIS best mate having raised the standard, in every sense, George Graham is taking his cue from Terry Venables and exhorting Arsenal to fly the flag for England when they resume unfinished business in Europe tonight.

Drawing 0-0 with Torino away established Britain's sole European survivors as favourites to complete the job at Highbury and claim their place in the semi-finals of the Cup- Winner's Cup, but recent history has taught Graham and his players to take nothing for granted.

Two years ago, in the European Cup, Arsenal thought they had done the hard part when they returned from Benfica with a 1-1 draw. How wrong they were. Forget Wrexham, the 3-1 defeat the Portuguese champions inflicted on them in the return remains the most painful result of Graham's eight-year managership.

Lessons had been learned, we are assured. Tonight's tie was 'reminiscent' of that embarrassing night when the Eagles of Lisbon showed their talons, but, he said, 'we're more experienced now, and realise the Italians will be just as formidable here as they were in Turin.'

Graham has reason to be wary. Torino did not reveal the extent of their attacking repertoire at home, when they kept Benito Carbone, their most insidious infiltrator, on the bench until late on. They were happy with 0-0, reasoning that their counter-attacking style equipped them to burgle the 1-1 draw which would take them through on away goals.

Their confidence was further enhanced by a 2-1 win against Cagliari at the weekend, but they remain a modest sixth in Serie A, 15 points behind Milan, and Arsenal know they are no Benfica. Unfortunately, neither are Graham's team the Arsenal that won the title twice in three seasons, and they will probably need all the intimidatory advantages a sell-out crowd can supply.

Two good wins, against Ipswich (5-1) and Blackburn (1-0), have done wonders for morale, and a demoralising defeat by Bolton Wanderers in Highbury's last cup tie is all but forgotten. Nearly, but not quite.

Arsenal's clouds tend to come with silver-plated linings, and what Benfica failed to do, Bolton did. It took a lesson from a team half-way up the old Second Division to convince Graham that the measured pass was the route to lasting success.

Since the magic Wanderers spirited the FA Cup away from north London with their poised, passing game, Graham has been in if-you- can't-beat'em-join-'em mode. 'After Bolton, I changed the formation to keep possession,' he said. 'We are passing the ball much better now. The last six games have been the best we've played.'

Tactical improvements apart, the Cup-Winners' Cup represents a last chance to salvage something from a disappointing season, and the importance of the match is such that Graham is not prepared to name a squad, let alone his team, for fear of alerting the Italians to his plans.

We can safely assume that the goalkeeper and his miserly back four will be as usual, and that Ian Wright, who was omitted from the first game, will play. Otherwise it is 'everybody is fit and available'. Sorry, no clues.

Graham was in one of his less communicative moods, old grudges about what he deems to be unfair press criticism of Arsenal's simplistic style never far from the surface.

It would be nice, he said, if everybody in the country - 'including the media' - rallied behind his team. 'We are representing Arsenal AND England, after all. England's performance against Denmark has given everybody a great boost. Let's carry it on.'

He expected Torino to 'defend in depth' and 'try to hit us on the break.' It was a comfort to have 'the best defensive record in the league', but Arsenal needed to score to progress and, inevitably, the focus would be on Wright, who had been 'superb' in scoring a hat- trick against Ipswich.

Torino will look for much the same from Andrea Silenzi, their Italian international, whose aerial strength was meat and drink to Tony Adams and Steve Bould in the first leg. Silenzi scored both goals against Cagliari on Sunday to take his season's total to 15, but the more elusive running of Carbone and Enzo Francescoli would seem to pose a bigger threat. Arsenal should keep the flag flying, but it could be half mast come semi-final time, with Paris St-Germain or Real Madrid, Ajax or Parma and Benfica or Bayer Leverkusen guaranteeing the Cup-Winners the most competitive last four of all.