Was Tuesday's victory at Milan Arsenal's best European away win ever? Arsenal.com editor Richard Clarke says yes, here's why.
The first indication that Arsenal might pull out something special against Milan came deep within the bowels of the San Siro on Monday evening. At the end of the final press conference Mathieu Flamini coined a simple phrase summing up his attitude to facing the Champions League holders on their home patch with the odds stacked in their favour.
"No fear," he said. And you knew he meant it.
It is the kind of phrase boxers come out with on such occasions. But, at the same time, there was a concern Arsenal might turn out to be Ricky Hatton facing Milan's Floyd Mayweather. They would perform gamely, even heroically, and win lots of friends for their style but ultimately all the tricks and experience of the champion would create a chasm in class on the night. After all, Milan/Mayweather had been at the top of the profession and winning titles for years, Hatton/Arsenal were pretenders to their crown.
Now, Wenger's young pugilists are hardly knockout artists. But they rained punishing blows on Carlo Ancelotti's side for most of the fight before finishing them in the final round. Had it been forced to go to the judge's scorecard, Arsenal would have surely won a landslide decision.
For me, the circumstances of this win are very, very special. With a nod in the direction of the 3-0 win at Roma in 2002 and the 7-0 thrashing of Standard Liege in 1993, there are only four contenders for the undisputed title of Arsenal's best European away win. And, having witnessed three of them, this one should definitely have its hand raised as the winner. Let me explain.
Milan's record in Europe was exemplary. Given that no one has retained the Champions League since it was morphed from the European Cup, the Rossoneri's three finals in five years represent the most dominant period by one side.
Also, as opposed to the win at Inter, this tie was in the Knockout Rounds. Yes, Arsenal's start had been so poor in 2003 that they had to win against Alberto Zaccheroni's side to get through the group. But, by definition, the pressure is more intense the further you get in the competition. That is why Juventus in 1980 is so special, albeit that it was 'only' in the Cup-Winners' Cup. It took us to a Final in a period when Arsenal played a major European name once a decade not three times a season. However, reportedly, Terry Neill's side 'nicked' that result while the Turin outfit were holding out for a win by away goals. It was a victory by stealth not style.
The same cannot be said of Real Madrid in 2006. However, my recollection of the night was of a superb Henry goal and some fine football from Arsenal plus a bit of survival too.
And, remember, that was a first leg. Despite the obvious merits of Arsenal's victory, the Spanish outfit knew they could compensate in the return game. And, but for the best save of Jens Lehman's career after Raul went through, they would have done so.
Going into Tuesday's game, there was an ominous quality about Milan. They had hardly looked like 'a team of old men' when they held out under intense pressure at Emirates Stadium. There was a feeling that Arsenal had missed their chance.
In the table below, I have tried to put all four teams in context. Listing the honours they had around the time of the game and the great players on show in the games against Arsenal. Juventus won the most trophies but Milan won the most prestigious trophies - that is why I put them in the top two positions. Real Madrid had the biggest names but not the most silverware - no surprise there. Inter, well OK that win was comprehensive too, however they were not the Scudetto-winning side of today. Also three goals in the last five minutes that night - glorious though they were - made it a thrashing when for most of the game it had been tight.
And that brings me to my final point. Milan WAS a thrashing from the first 15 minutes on. It is just that Arsenal did not have the goals to prove it.
With six minutes to go, I wrote this in my report: "The tension was now becoming palpable. Milan were the masters of brinkmanship but Arsenal had been clearly the better side over the two ties. They deserved to go through, all they had to do was score."
As I looked up from my laptop Cesc Fabregas planted that 30-yarder past Zeljko Kalac. With seconds left Adebayor capped an incredible performance with a second and I got playfully reprimanded for celebrating in the press box. Admittedly not really the done thing.
However, I make no apologies. It was a unique night for Arsenal and, in my opinion, one that has not been bettered away in Europe.
Here's my top four European away wins.
1) Milan 0 Arsenal 2 - Champions League Knockout Round second leg, 2008
Their honours (in the six years before the game) - Champions League winners 2007, 2003; Finalists 2005. World Club Cup 2007. Italian League winners 2004, Runners-up 2005. Italian Cup 2003,
Key opposition players playing that night: Kaka, Pirlo, Gattuso, Maldini, Nesta
2) Juventus 0 Arsenal 1 - Cup-Winners Cup Semi-Final second leg, 1980
Opposition Honours (in the six years surrounding the game) - Italian League Winners 1977, 1978, 1981, 1982. Runners up 1980. European Cup runners up 1983. Uefa Cup 1977.
Key players: Zoff, Bettega, Causio, Gentile
3) Real Madrid 0 Arsenal 1 - Champions League Knockout Round first leg, 2006
Opposition Honours (in the six years surrounding the game) - Spanish League 2003, 2007. Runners up 2005, 2006. Copa de Rey: Runners up 2004.
Key players: Zidane, Beckham, Ronaldo, Robinho, Carlos
4) Inter 1 Arsenal 5 - Champions League Group game, 2003
Opposition Honours (in the six years surrounding the game) - Italian League: Winners 2006, Runners up 2003. Italian Cup winners 2005, 2006, Runners-up 2000
Key players: Cannavaro, Vieri, J Zanetti, Toldo.
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