Glass Half Full? Our Bleedin' Cup Runneth Over!

Last updated : 20 April 2004 By Bernard Azulay

Personally I feel that the seeds of our sad Champions League exit were sown in the psychological effects of our semi final defeat at Villa Park and who knows if Utd would have gone into this game with quite so much confidence, if it wasn't for Saha's late equalizer the previous week. However as my old man was fond of saying "if my granny had balls, she'd have been my grandad". At least we only choked on our away goal against Chelsea and not the two and three goal leads AC Milan and Real Madrid took into their second legs.

I am not sure if it was a consolation knowing that at least I wouldn't find myself sitting here absolutely bulling as the Blues bilked me out of my long awaited trip to the Bernabeu and perhaps the chance to pit our wits against Serie A's best in the final. Or a wind up because after watching all the other favourites fall, football's most prestigious trophy appears there for the taking. It was without doubt the worst case scenario in one respect, as my gamble on Real's 'galacticos' went awry. I can't even sell the flights we've booked to the Spanish capital to Chelsea fans!

It was positively soul-destroying going out of Europe, especially to domestic opponents who've been our doormat for so many seasons. The problem is that prior to last week, according to the fickle pundits in the media the Premiership had long since been a foregone conclusion. So while it was an amazing achievement that we managed to bounce back and raise our spirits sufficiently to roll over Liverpool on Friday, the sense of accomplishment is diminished to some extent because in truth we are only going on to do what it expected of us.

Whereas European success has eluded us for so long now that it's becoming a bit of a Gooner Holy Grail. It's the one honour absent from the long list at the front of our matchday programmes and the one trophy that will enable us to shed any inferiority by entitling us to take our seat at football 's top table with the other European elite. We might all know our manager is a miracle worker and he has already written his own chapter in the Arsenal's illustrious history but winning the Champions League is the only way Wenger can really rubber-stamp his reputation alongside Chapman, Shankly, Clough and Fergie in football's hall of fame.

Every season we set out on this long arduous and expensive European odyssey, schlepping to strange corners of the continent, anxiously sitting in front of the computer for the draw of each successive round, hoping I can find Hotzaplotz on the computer and an affordable flight to somewhere in the vicinity. More than any other previous campaigns, many of us thought that this might be the season when Arsène finally liberates himself from the burden of the European monkey on his back. After clocking up so many air miles in the fruitless pursuit of this ambition, winning it would come as a welcome relief, if only that I might be able to save a small fortune by being able to forego some of the less delectable foreign trips and stopping at home to watch them on the box with all the other sensible Gooners.

With hindsight it is relatively easy to establish reasons why we won't be going to Gelsenkirchen in May (obviously apart from getting beat by Chelsea!), all of which are related to financial constraints. I can't think of a team that's achieved European Cup success without a world class keeper between the sticks? And as far as our £1.5 million minder is concerned, I am afraid that the maxim is true, you pay peanuts and you get monkeys! You can be sure that whatever the Arsenal would have needed to borrow to afford someone a little higher up the scale of evolution, we would have been repaid several times over with all the incidental rewards which go with Champions League success (World Club championship etc.). What's more at the start of the season, according to virtually all the pundits, Wenger's skeletal squad was going to struggle to survive the domestic dustup. While I doubt very much he would have tinkered to the same extent as Ranieiri, I am sure Wenger would've been grateful for a few more world class reserves. They might have ensured that some of our stars were just a little fresher for a more successful finale.

However by and large, the media has patently neglected to consider the Arsenal's progress during Wenger's tenure from a 'glass half-full' perspective. The Arsenal don't have unlimited access to the King of Spain's coffers, nor the deep pockets of a Russian sugar-daddy and they don't have the PLC status to issue shares which aren't worth the paper they are printed on. Considering Arsène's nett spending is substantially lower than many of our domestic rivals it is downright astonishing that he has produced one of the greatest teams on this planet. Unlike the plight poor Leeds were left in by O'Leary, our club isn't totally dependent on being successful to stay solvent.

Liverpool's visit last Friday was proof positive of quite how lucky we Gooners are, as it highlighted the gulf in class between Houllier's hotchpotch of hirelings (he inherited the likes of Gerrard and Owen) and ours. To avoid any further disappointment in my despondent state, I'd prepared myself for the possibility of a Premiership backlash from our cup exits. I believed we might not be able to lift ourselves and the scent of Arsenal blood might see us blow all six points over Easter. I was already envisaging the silver lining that any gloss which had been taken off the Gunners' title triumph would be restored with the enjoyment of winning after a wide open climax.

I should have had more faith in this team's strength of character (and Liverpool's lack thereof). I was far from alone, as even our most loyal fans begun berating their team when the Scousers scored and a once sensational season appeared to be sliding into a silverware bereft freefall. It will be an incredible achievement if we can remain undefeated and suddenly there's an added attraction of perhaps winning the title at White Hart Lane (again!). At least without any Cup distractions, Wenger won't be tempted to rest players. My biggest concern is that the closer we come to record breaking glory, the bigger the hype becomes. As we saw at St. James Park. where we'd plainly settled for the draw at the death, there is a danger that the fear of losing might prevent us playing out these last six games at our adventurous best.