James Lawton: Arsenal's brilliance casts a shadow on Anfield Road

Set against the drama of Liverpool's turmoil, the potential shown by Arshavin and Wenger's young Gunners is the stuff of football dreams

The nightmare of Liverpool was always going to provide this week's most riveting drama in Europe. What we couldn't know, though, was that it would be put into quite such tortured perspective by somebody else's dream. Arsenal's, that is.

It is a wonderful dream because it is based on quite stunning football values – as deeply impressive, indeed, as those carried so brilliantly by Barcelona to Rome's Stadio Olimpico for the Champions League final last spring.

Yes, we know the opposition provided by Ronald Koeman's AZ Alkmaar was several rungs below the level of competition Arsène Wenger's men must master if they are to deliver the club's first European crown, but as workouts go this one was in a category of its own.

We also know that it has happened before – perhaps most spectacularly two seasons ago when Arsenal went to San Siro and dismantled Milan. That superb eruption was followed by a quarter-final defeat by Liverpool, but now only the morbid would want to dwell on any comparison between the situations of the two clubs.

Arsenal, we see more clearly than ever, are wedded to quality, to an unbroken pursuit of excellence in both conception and execution.

Yet there is something more than the selection of a policy option which steadfastly rejects any compromise in the matter of how the game should be played. There is a passion which the jubilant Wenger expressed in the simplest terms after an exquisite attacking performance. "We played like we loved the game tonight," he said after Wednesday's 4-1 win.

For the uncommitted, too, what was there not to love?

Samir Nasri's return reminded us of the extent of the loss represented by his injury for the first part of the season, as did some of the performances of the long sidetracked Tomas Rosicky. But it was in the sublime touch and judgement of Andrei Arshavin that we surely saw the essence of Wenger's belief in what is most important in football: beauty, wit and above all the imagination which defines the very best of the game.

The goals he delivered to Cesc Fabregas and Abou Diaby were ultimate examples of team football. They spoke of absolute awareness of the possibilities created by unselfish running and a deep understanding of the potential of team-mates. Fabregas, a young lord of the game, said as much when he casually patted his older Russian colleague's cheek in thanks for a perfectly delivered pass. It was the kind of gesture which said, "Isn't this what we do, isn't this who we are?"

It was perhaps not so odd that Arshavin, despite being such a luminous presence in last year's European Championship, was always likely to join Arsenal if he moved to England. Some thought he was maybe too old to surrender his role as the pocket tsar of St Petersburg and take his chances on the quick and physically draining treadmill of the Premier League, and perhaps also a little too fragile. But if Wenger used such doubts as a bargaining tool, signing Arshavin for a knockdown £10m in transfer window brinkmanship uncomplicated by any rival bids, he was plainly sure about the 28-year-old Russian's ability to make a vital, maybe even inspirational, contribution to the development of a young side.

Such calculation no doubt also went into arguably the signing of last summer, the stealing – because this is what it increasingly appears to be – of Ajax defender Thomas Vermaelen for another £10m.

Such dealing, certainly, throws into the harshest light the scattergun moves of Liverpool, for whom the performances of such as centre-back reserve Sotirios Kyrgiakos and displaced Andrei Voronin in Lyons suggested again a squad strength simply not able to support success at the highest level.

There is another rather shocking point of comparison: Liverpool agreed to pay for their embarrassing Robbie Keane misadventure roughly Arsenal's outlay on Arshavin and Vermaelen.

However, it is necessary to give to the embattled Rafa Benitez his due. Whatever the morass he now occupies, he did reach the European mountain top that so haunts the dream of Wenger. The Arsenal manager, who was both devastated and bitter in Paris in 2006 when he lost to Barcelona, conceded that his work was still one in progress even when he celebrated the serenity of this week's performance. "I believe in this team," he declared yet again. "The demand on us is to be consistent and then we can see how far we can go in this competition."

For the moment they must be rated third among English contenders, behind the increasingly formidable Chelsea and their rampant warrior-in-chief Didier Drogba and a Manchester United struggling to reproduce the authority that came with successive marches to the Champions League final – and what may prove to have been the golden years of Cristiano Ronaldo.

Yet if doubts will inevitably linger about Arsenal's ability to produce the competitive fortitude required in the later stages of the world's greatest club competition, it is still necessary, as it was last season in the case of Barça, to marvel at the goal they have set themselves.

It is not only to win the ultimate prize but to do it in a way that anyone who loves football is duty-bound to embrace. This may be a pious sentiment in an age of hysterical partisanship, but if some of Arsenal's recent performances do not provide it with a breath of support nothing will.

Across the Atlantic they have a habit of bestowing the title America's Team on any side whose appeal has crossed barriers of local prejudice. Dallas Cowboys long enjoyed such a description and no doubt the latest World Series success of the New York Yankees will grab at least some schoolboy hearts in remote Prairie townships.

Calling Arsenal England's Team may be far too much of a push, especially when the foundation of their virtuosity has long been imported. However, like Barcelona before them, they are certainly challenging for a title beyond the remit of any of the game's authorities. Maybe, for the moment at least, we might just call them Football's Team.

Our experts' verdicts: Who'll win European Cup?

James Lawton Chief Sports Writer

Winners: Chelsea; Dark horses: Arsenal

Sam Wallace Football Correspondent

Winners: Barcelona; Dark horses: Porto

Ian Herbert Deputy Football Correspondent

Winners: Barcelona; Dark horses: Real Madrid

Glenn Moore Football Editor

Winners: Chelsea; Dark horses: Arsenal

Mark Fleming Football Reporter

Winners: Chelsea; Dark horses: Fiorentina

Life and Style
tech

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again say analysts

News
A Brazilian wandering spider
news

World's most lethal spider found under a bunch of bananas

Life and Style
fashion

British supermodel and hitmaker join forces to launch a 'huge song'

Life and Style
gaming

I Am Bread could actually a challenging and nuanced title

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in the win over QPR
footballInternet reacts to miss shocker for Liverpool striker
News
people
Voices
Sol Campbell near his home in Chelsea
voices
News
i100
News
Kimi the fox cub
newsBurberry under fire from animal rights group - and their star, Kimi
Sport
Fans of Palmeiras looks dejected during the match between Palmeiras and Santos
footballPalmeiras fan killed trying to 'ambush' bus full of opposition supporters
Arts and Entertainment
filmsIt's nearly a wrap on Star Wars: Episode 7, producer reveals
Life and Style
fashion
News
i100
News
<p>Jonathan Ross</p>
<p>Jonathan Ross (or Wossy, as he’s affectionately known) has been on television and radio for an extraordinarily long time, working on a seat in the pantheon of British presenters. Hosting Friday Night with Jonathan Ross for nine years, Ross has been in everything from the video game Fable to Phineas and Ferb. So it’s probably not so surprising that Ross studied at Southampton College of Art (since rebranded Southampton Solent), a university known nowadays for its media production courses.</p>
<p>However, after leaving Solent, Ross studied History at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, now part of the UCL, a move that was somewhat out of keeping with the rest of his career. Ross was made a fellow of the school in 2006 in recognition of his services to broadcasting.</p>
TV

Rumours that the star wants to move on to pastures new

News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past