Football: Resilience gets its reward for Arsenal's artisans: The end justifies the typically British means for George Graham's European Cup-Winners' Cup finalists, writes Joe Lovejoy

Click to follow
The Independent Online
ARSENAL'S arrival in the final of the European Cup-Winners' Cup may be seen as a shot in the arm for English football but Terry Venables, for one, is likely to view their continued progress with mixed feelings.

At a time when the new England coach is keen to embrace a more sophisticated style he will have noted, with the rest of us, that the siege Gunners battered their way past a technically superior Paris St Germain team by playing the traditional British game.

It has to be said, without equivocation, that Arsenal deserved to go through to the final, where they will meet the holders Parma of Italy in Copenhagen on 4 May, and even Artur Jorge, the PSG coach, said it. Their spirit and tenacity was more than a match for French flair and technique, as it had been against Italy's Torino in the previous round.

On each occasion, George Graham played the continentals at their own cat and mouse game, stifling the opposition and drawing away before winning the tie at home. Tactical nous, though, was Arsenal's only concession to European football, and there is a danger that their success will revive all the old John Bull delusions about British being best.

Graham's defence has been second to none to date, and is probably the best in the competition, but both PSG and Torino were better at the aspects of the game where England have long been found wanting.

Tony Adams was an inspirational figure again on Tuesday night, with Lee Dixon and Nigel Winterburn not far behind him, but finding resolute defenders has never been England's problem. Spontaneous creativity is what was lacking throughout the ill-fated attempt to qualify for the World Cup, and Venables is unlikely to find the remedy in Arsenal's artisan midfield.

After going out of the European Cup to Benfica, two years ago, Graham sacrificed the craft of Anders Limpar and David Rocastle in favour of the more prosaic, but less brittle talents of David Hillier, John Jensen and Ray Parlour. The drones took over in a midfield where work was all.

The new, safety-first team was not good enough to win the League, as the old one had done twice in three seasons, but they were notoriously hard to beat, and their cussedness has served them well in knock- out competition, where they won both the FA and Coca-Cola Cups last year.

On Tuesday PSG were brighter and more inventive, but were held up by the scuttling attentions of Jensen in the centre of midfield. When they did manage to get through, their attacks usually foundered on a towering rock by the name of Adams. If there is a better defender in Britain, he does not spring readily to mind.

The donkey turned thoroughbred epitomises the dogged, sleeves- rolled nature of Arsenal's European odyssey. It has been a working voyage rather than a luxury cruise.

Their prospects of winning their first European trophy since the old Fairs Cup, back in 1970, have hardly been enhanced by Ian Wright's suspension, for his second booking of the tournament, but with Paul Merson to come back after injury, they have good cover all across the front line.

Wright was distraught at the thought of missing his first European final, but had his spirits lifted after the game, when he received a series of consoling telephone calls - Paul Ince, Andy Cole and Ruel Fox all making contact within 20 minutes of the final whistle.

'I was fated not to play,' the England striker said. 'I've been fated throughout my career - coming into the game late, breaking a leg when Crystal Palace were in the Cup final, missing out on the European Championship when I was the country's leading scorer, and now this. Still, I've done my bit. It's up to the others now.'

Adams, every inch the supportive captain, nodded sympathetically and promised that they would win the cup for him.

Again Arsenal will be the less gifted team, but their staunch resolve - what Wright calls 'the bulldog spirit, man' - must give them an even-money chance.

Comments