With efficiency at set-pieces and a dash of ingenuity, Arsenal had carved out a 3-2 first-leg lead over Sampdoria in an uncharacteristically knock- about match. One more goal scored would have made the trip to Genoa for the second leg more comfortable, another conceded would have made it more fraught. Reverting to type, the Arsenal manager, Stewart Houston, opted to avert any danger of the latter at the expense of the possibility of the former. Paul Merson and Ian Wright were duly substituted.
Houston's explanation that fresh legs were needed was hardly convincing. The two had fashioned the third goal, Merson's perceptive through-ball picking out Wright's thoughtful run between centre-backs, and less creative runners could have been sacrificed. The spectre of George Graham still haunts, however; Houston sought his advice before the match.
In Zaragoza, meanwhile, Chelsea fell to a 3-0 defeat amid the familiar beaten Brit abroad hooliganism that still blights our game. How relieved Europe will be, in particular the citoyens of Paris where the final is to be held, at their impending exit.
The less good news is that Arsenal's fans are making provisional bookings for 10 May. Their reputation does not match Chelsea's, but a boorish element still undermines the largely peaceable. At Highbury last Thursday, just behind a young boy sat a man bellowing obscenities and racial abuse. Out of fear, no one (including this observer) confronted this behaviour: as long as no violence is involved, it seems that people are content.
For Chelsea, the untypical came in the shape of Glenn Hoddle restoring order and composure on the field as a substitute in the later stages, illustrating the wisdom and the craft that English football is missing at present. His achievement as a coach, too, has been laudable, even if there remain doubts about his buying and selling as a manager.
By contrast to a Chelsea still some way short of the club's potential, Arsenal are wringing the last drops from their capabilities before the team is rebuilt. Two goals by Steve Bould exemplified their power of yore, although he had previously scored only five in the past seven years.
Sampdoria were well aware of the threat from set-pieces, but doing something about it was another matter. "We cannot eat to become taller in one week," lamented their coach, the Swede Sven-Goran Eriksson, who successfully brought a Benfica side to Highbury three years ago in the Champions' Cup. "They have more or less the same way of playing and are difficult to defend against, but you can't be afraid of them and go back."
Their potency, allied to the fallibility of Walter Zenga in the Sampdoria goal, will raise Arsenal's hopes, despite the two goals conceded to Vladimir Jugovic, the second from Roberto Mancini's delightful back-heel. Arsenal's European record away from home, where they are more comfortable on the counter- attack, is exceptional, after all. A draw, which they are well able to eke out, will do.
"I would say the chances are Arsenal 51 per cent, Sampdoria 49," said Eriksson, who was asked to compare the English team with Porto, managed by Bobby Robson, whom his side overcame in the quarter-finals. "Porto have great speed and technique, one of the best teams in Europe for that. But they are not so strong or well organised. It is not so easy to get Latin players to be as disciplined."
That discipline will be tested to the limit in the Stadio Luigi Ferraris, with Pietro Vierchowod, Riccardo Ferri and Sinisa Mihajlovic available again for an ageing Sampdoria, although David Platt remains suspended and Ruud Gullit ineligible. Arsenal may be without honour in their own country, but they have an enduring method in Europe for others at home to study.Reuse content