London's calling to win European Cup?
Bargain buy Chamakh leads capital's unique three-pronged assault on Champions' League.
Sunday 19 September 2010
What have the cities of Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and Nottingham achieved that London has not? Answer: won the European Cup. Add places the size of Dortmund, Eindhoven and Porto that have also done so and it is a notable omission on the honours lists of the capital's clubs.
They have come close, of course. Tottenham's great Double team arguably deserved to have come through their epic 1962 semi-final against Benfica, who went on to win one of the greatest of the 56 finals by beating Real Madrid 5-3.
Arsenal have never been closer than in leading Barcelona with 14 minutes of the 2006 final left after Jens Lehmann had been sent off. Chelsea were one slip of John Terry's standing leg from winning the penalty shoot-out against Manchester United two years later.
Be that as it may, the record books show eight wins for the North-west, three to the Midlands (in the space of four remarkable seasons from 1979-82) and none to London. Now the capital is undertaking a unique three-pronged assault – the first from one city in any given campaign – which last week began rather well in a season which will see the final contested at Wembley.
Had Spurs not lapsed either side of half-time at Werder Bremen, or Peter Crouch had accepted a good chance in the final minute, fans of all three clubs would have been celebrating an opening group victory. Harry Redknapp being the sort of manager whose glass is always half-full (despite his recent strictures about footballers and alcohol), a 2-2 draw in Germany was felt to be a satisfactory start in a section that both managers agreed will be extremely tight in competition with Internazionale and Twente Enschede.
Arsenal and Chelsea certainly sent out a powerful message the following night that with all their experience of the competition they will be the team to beat in their respective groups. Since the ill-fated experiment of playing home games at Wembley a decade ago, Arsenal have never been eliminated at the first stage. For the last three years, however, they have gone out to a stronger side playing exceptionally well in the second leg in Liverpool (2-4), Manchester United (1-3) and Barcelona (1-4).
Now Arsène Wenger believes that the extra experience gained by his youngish squad is bearing fruit. Cesc Fabregas and Jack Wilshere, abetted by Andrey Arshavin, rightly took most of the plaudits in the 6-0 demolition of Sporting Braga, but even with Robin van Persie, Nicklas Bendtner and Theo Walcott currently injured, there is a sharper definition to the Gunners' attack in the 6ft-plus figure of Marouane Chamakh, whose acquisition from Bordeaux on a Bosman free transfer may prove one of the bargains of the summer.
For a while in his first couple of games he seemed to struggle, but heading a goal in another 6-0 rout, at home to Blackpool, settled him down and a well-taken shot against Braga, cleverly set up by Wilshere, brought a third goal in four starts. Afterwards he admitted that like most foreign players, even those forewarned, he had been taken aback by the manic nature of football in this country.
"It was very fast," Chamakh said, "even though I prepared in my head, and was expecting it. It does not stop much, it's much faster. It's much more athletic and physical than in France and that's what I love. I watched a lot of English Premier League football when I was in France. I admired it and that's why I came. I'm loving it."
Chamakh even claims that he would like to experience the atmosphere of a North London derby at White Hart Lane on Tuesday, when Arsenal visit Tottenham in the Carling Cup. It may have to be done from the bench, if not in front of a television, as Wenger is highly unlikely to risk him picking up an injury in a competition which the manager regards as schooling for his youngsters. Redknapp must also make a careful selection on the same night, having become aware of the difficulties in balancing the demands on his squad.
Meanwhile, Chelsea, none the worse for being knocked out of the Carling Cup on penalties before Christmas in the past two seasons, will not become overexcited about a home tie with Newcastle United. There are bigger fish to fry in the European kitchen.
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