James Lawton: Gunners bewilder Italy's champions with thrilling lesson in pace, beauty and vision

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There was some cheap acrimony on the terraces of glorious old Highbury but it had no place: sneering at the plight of former hero Patrick Vieira and his tortured Juventus was to miss the point of an unforgettable night.

It would have been more understandable if there was any cause to ruminate on the past. But for at least a season of doubt there had never been less reason. This was a statement about the future that was entitled to thrill not just a partisan section of north London but every corner of English football.

Arsenal not only beat the reigning champions of Italy, they administered a lesson in some of the game's most enduring virtues ... pace, beauty and, above all, an easy and often sublime vision.

Can they win the great prize of European football after all those years of miserable, even betraying under-achievement? Last night it became more than a reasonable proposition. It became a matter of potential enrichment for an entire English national game locked in doubts about its health, and even its decency.

Arsenal had many reasons for celebration last night and for Vieira, banned for the next game after his booking, there must have been another flash of pain when he considered what might have been the greatest one of all.

It was surely Cesc Fabregas, a player of tender years but the scale of the ages.

If Arsenal are indeed rising again to some of their new heights, there is no doubt that the Spaniard has to be at the heart of their best hopes.

Arsenal opened with an avalanche of creativity, or was it mere eye-catching frippery? That is the question you always have to ask when a team like Juventus are providing the deeply entrenched defence. The answer was provided soon enough, however, by Mauro Camoranesi when he mowed down Jose Antonio Reyes. Such force isn't applied at such risk - the Juve player was ruling himself out of the second leg in earning his yellow card - if worry hasn't entered deeply into your bones.

Camoranesi was just reflecting the extent of the Spaniard's impact with a series of mesmerising runs down the left flank, and soon enough Camoranesi knew - as did his team-mates - that they were caught in the middle of a nightmare. His later red card came as another sword-stroke as Juve were almost morally dismantled as his team-mate Jonathan Zebina followed him off the field. It was the most arresting early evidence that indeed there is a new tide flowing through resurrected Arsenal. It is one of old belief in pure football values, and if Reyes was providing the most exciting early evidence, he did not want for passionate assistance. Arsenal took the game to Juventus as they had Real Madrid in the previous round - Real and Madrid, not bad names to chase down as notches on your gunbelt while attempting to retrieve your reputation.

There were moments of wonderful assurance in the process last night - and some poignancy too as Vieira, the old field general and driving force, found himself caught in bursts of staccato Arsenal brilliance.

Most satisfying, surely, for Arsène Wenger was the sense of new heroes emerging in the company of men who did so much to set the standard of artistry. Both Robert Pires and Thierry Henry unearthed some moments to put among their best, but increasingly the eye was drawn to the precocious teenager Fabregas.

The huge question at the start of the season was whether Fabregas would meet or be consumed by the challenge of replacing the great Vieira. When he took his goal in the 41st minute, seizing clinically on the confusion created by a touch of silky devastation by Pires, such a debate seemed like the relic of an old fear.

Fabregas was for so much of the action exactly as he has been described by his mentor Liam Brady, the head of Arsenal's youth development, who in his own youth so often left this old and nobly dying stadium spellbound. Fabregas was a throwback to the days of midfield craft, of building a network of passes, of making delightful triangles and then forcing himself into the cutting edge of the action.

His performance was stunning in its precocity and from his team-mates there was an astonishing weight of heightened individual performance.

Wenger patrolled the touchline as a football man of great achievement whose ambitions have again been set on fire. In the process, so too has the anticipation of all those who care about football and its best expression.

Arsenal are back - have no doubt about that. And so is some of the very best we can expect from the game as it is played in this country - and, you have to suspect now, all of Europe.