Arsenal fans could be looking towards the semi-finals of the Europa League should they dispatch CSKA Moscow and their fans will be hoping that they will get to travel to Decines-Charpieu. If they can make the final, then they will be able to pack into the Parc Olympique Lyonnais, desperately praying for their first European success since 1994. They won the Cup Winners Cup back then and to this day, ‘that night in Copenhagen’ is close in the hearts of all that who were old enough to remember it.
The Parken Stadium in the Danish capital has an English look and feel to it on the best of days. That night as ‘One nil to the Arsenal’ reverberated around its steep stands, it felt more and more like home. The chant had now become an anthem to the Gunners after George Graham’s resolute side with ‘that defence’, had made it their preferred score-line. Arsenal had qualified for the tournament after dispatching of Sheffield Wednesday in both the FA Cup and the League Cup the season before and now had the chance to try and impress on the European stage.
It all started in Denmark in the TRE-FOR Park in front of only 9,000 fans. They faced Odense and were heavy favourites. Despite goals from Ian Wright and Paul Merson they only won the away leg 2-1 and the Danes made it even more difficult back at Highbury, when they pushed Arsenal all the way and narrowly lost 3-2. This acted as a wake-up call and they took the next match against Standard Liege more seriously, George Graham's side won 3-0 at home but few would have guessed what would happen at the Stade Maurice Dufrasne. The, now titled, boring-boring Arsenal, hammered the Belgians 7-0 and the fans that travelled were treated to an exceptional goal from surprise scorer, Eddie McGoldrick, this was the icing on top of a 10-0 cake.
Things got much harder in the next round as in 1994 Serie A was without question the most feared, glamorous and professional league in World football. Coppa Italia winners, Torino, stood in the way of the Gunners, a team noted for their superb defence. After holding out for a ‘backs to the wall’ 0-0 draw in Turin, the return match was much the same, only a goal from Tony Adams helped the Gunners to scrape through. Their reward was a tie against Paris Saint Germain in the semi-finals who boasted players like Bernard Lama, Valdo, Rai and the dangerous George Weah. In an enthralling two legs, Arsenal were victorious 2-1 thanks to a Kevin Campbell goal in Paris.
The final reached, Arsenal fans descended onto the Parken Stadium in Denmark with much excitement but little hope. Parma stood in their way, Cup Winners Cup holders from 1993, they boasted one of the strongest squads in Serie A. Coached by the superb Nevio Scala, their team consisted of talent like Luca Bucci, Antonio Benarrivo, Luigi Apollini, Roberto Sensini, Tomas Brolin, Gianfranco Zola and of course Faustino Asprilla. Arsenal were without Ian Wright due to a suspension and it was assumed that Parma wold be more than a match for them.
The game itself started with Parma hitting the post early on, Tomas Brolin with the unlucky strike but as the game looked to be heading in the Italians direction the unthinkable happened, Arsenal scored. A badly miss hit clearance fell to Alan Smith, who capitalised on the error, took the ball own with his chest and cracked a 20-yard volley past the despairing Bucci. He could only watch the ball bounce in off the post. The Arsenal fans went delirious, but this was only after 20 minutes, there was a long way to go. What ensued was a chess match between Graham and Scala, now the English were trying to show the Italians how they could defend but this wasn’t going to be like playing Torino. Parma had firepower but the Gunners managed to contain Asprilla and Zola, the Gialloblu made chances but took none of them and by the final whistle, Arsenal were the Cup winners.
Arsenal still have to travel to Russia and face more then one tricky tie if they are to repeat a feat like this again but they should take heart in ‘that night in Copenhagen’. Here, they were underdogs and competing against a team with a superb array of talent. Now it is the Gunners who look to be favourites along, with Lazio and Atletico Madrid and victory in the tournament is not beyond them. If they can harness the spirit of 1994 then maybe one day people will write about ‘that night in Lyon’.