Give Me Domestic Drudgery Any Day

Last updated : 22 May 2002 By Bernard Azulay

I was playing devil's advocate over what domestic trophies I might be prepared to dispense with, in order to dine with the elite at European football's top table.

Like any other right minded Gooner, I can't wait to see the Arsenal conquer the crème de la crème, on route to their eventual coronation as crowned heads of Europe. Taking our rightful place as European rulers, by establishing a Real Madrid type dynasty would be wonderful, but personally I would settle for taking club football's top prize just the once (to start with!). Not only so that I might at long last sing "by far the greatest team" with absolute conviction, but because it would be beautiful to obliterate at long last, any inkling of an inferiority complex compared to some of our more corpulent European cousins, when I open my programme at the start of the season, to see the one trophy which has to date eluded us, listed there amongst our role of honours, for all eternity.

Unlike some slightly more presumptuous Gooners, the three trophy 'T' word had not passed my lips, for fear of tempting fate. Yet as I debated this matter prior to the Juve debacle, I decided I definitely wasn't prepared to concede neither the FA Cup nor the Premiership, in favour of progress in Europe. Not to mention paying such a hefty price, only to see us embarrassingly nailed in the knockout stages. With the possible return to fitness of those two stalwart rocks of Keown and Adams at the heart of our defence, if Deportivo hadn't done the dirty on us (it galls me to think of the gracious round of applause we gave them at Highbury) and we had made it through to the quarters, a Glaswegian finale to this fabulous season might not have been such a fanciful fantasy.

Albeit if there is one lesson to be learned from the way Liverpool levered themselves into the later stages, it is the patent fact that at the highest level, it is not scoring goals that counts, but a defence which is capable of not conceding them. And if we are honest with ourselves, all thoughts of being kings of the continent should remain in cloud cuckoo land, until our current squad can conceive of keeping a clean sheet against the very best. Cryonics would have been the perfect solution. If only we could have frozen our fab five dinosaurs a few years back, defrosting them just for special occasions! I feel for poor Captains Fantastic, Pugwash, Able Seaman and dear Dicko, since fate might well have dealt them such a lousy last European hand.

Although the defeat was mighty disappointing, it was more the manner of our undignified European exit which I found so depressing. With my extremely limited knowledge of Italian, I usually find a few words of the lingo are met with an incomprehensible, rapid fire response. So my attempts to communicate with the taxi driver who collected us from the Stadio Delle Alpi, degenerated into fairly universal hand signals. Assuming that he wasn't referring to a recent shag, or making a pass at me, I construed his signals to suggest an appreciation of the commitment and spirit of sides from these shores (obviously he hadn't seen the match!). Qualities which are traditionally associated with our football, but are so often found wanting from players abroad, who change team shirts as often as their pants! Far be it from me to question Obi Wenger Kenobi's ability to instill this force in all his foreign charges, but I can't help but reflect on the fact that we were undone by a Depor side containing eight Spanish nationals, with few prima donnas. Whereas Seaman and Sol were the only two players from these shores in our side. Moreover is it a mere coincidence that the two teams who qualified for the quarters from this country both contain a sizable core of countrymen, be they English. Irish, or Scottish.

I was scared I'd been barking up completely the wrong tree, when this Sicilian came to a screeching halt on route to our hotel. However he was merely responding to the sirens from the police escort for the bus loads of Gooner day trippers, heading straight to the airport. I was disconsolate despite the consolation of a third delightful day in eighty degree sunshine, so lord only knows how miserable they must have been, without even the pleasure of feeling the sun on their back. I fancy it was a somewhat funereal flight home. I can remember when an appetizing duel like Arsenal v Juve was a once in a decade delight, which would guarantee lifelong memories of a full-house and a fantastic atmosphere. Whereas the weekly encounters in the Champions League have ensured we've all become far too blasé about such common occurrences. For evidence of football's bursting bubble, you need look no further than the blight of the "bianconeri's" bare terraces. As far as the football match itself was concerned, I have to say our trip to Toon town will leave a far more lasting impression than our lame struggle to get our leg over with "The Old Lady of Turin"!

My loyalty to the Gooner cause is such that I love away matches, far more than our home games, on account of the fervent atmosphere one finds amongst the travelling faithful. Constant Champions League qualification will eventually present a scenario, in which I am likely to be far from alone in no longer being able to afford to follow my team to every match. I adore the fact that our European adventures have taken us to so many far flung corners of the continent, that I would have never dreamt of visiting if it weren't for football. Yet I absolutely abhor the fact that there will soon come a time when I am forced into another damn digital subscription in order to watch the Arsenal play via sterile television coverage. It certainly doesn't bode well for the inevitable advent of a Euro League which might well replicate the non-partisan, vacuum packed product of the philistine sport played on the other side of the Atlantic.

I returned from Italy plagued by pessimistic thoughts that our "big stage" stars wouldn't be able to raise their game for the remainder of our season, after our ignominious European exit. Although with season ticket renewals just around the corner (including the cost of extra cup games on top of any increase!) I have to admit to feeling somewhat relieved at not having to tax the plastic, with two further foreign trips, after it took a pasting on all those irresistible treats to comfort us in Turin. Thankfully my pessimism was totally misplaced, as our imperious cup performance proved that defeat has only hardened their desire not to end another season empty-handed. It was a heartwarming experience that suggests the Arsenal spirit is alive and well and coursing through this squad!