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  Thursday, 26 September, 2002, 11:34 GMT 12:34 UK
Why Arsenal will win the Champions League
Freddie Ljungberg celebrates after scoring against PSV
Ljungberg celebrates Arsenal's second in Eindhoven

Manchester United fans, hold your horses for a second.

The same goes for all of you who have just shouted out: "What about Real Madrid?"

The feeling that this season represents Arsenal's best-ever chance of winning the Champions League is not based on crazy-eyed optimism, nor the ease with which they beat PSV and Borussia Dortmund.

Arsenal's Gilberto Silva celebrates his goal against PSV
Gilberto Silva celebrates the opener against PSV
When it comes to British success in Europe, there is a pattern at work - and United fans will recognise it as well as anyone else.

England's champions, it seems, need time to adjust to the demands of the Champions League.

Since the start of the Premiership 10 years ago, none of the country's champions have instantly reproduced their domestic success on the European stage.

Blackburn had just one bite of the cherry, but their European displays in 1995 were so poor they are remembered only for the fist fight between David Batty and his team-mate Graeme Le Saux.

Arsenal, like United before them, have enjoyed more than a single season in the Champions League.

And, like mountain climbers scaling a vertiginous peak, it has taken them a while to adjust to the rarefied air at the top of the European game.

Look at the example United set.

They returned to the European Cup (as it was then) in 1993-4, but went out in the second round on away goals to Galatasaray.

Manchester United raise the Champions League trophy in 1999
United's Champions League win was years in the making
In the first year of the Champions League, they failed to progress from the group stages, losing heavily in Barcelona and Gothenburg.

And 1996 was even worse - an embarrassing away goals defeat to Rotor Volgograd in the Uefa Cup's first round.

By 1997, it was starting to come right. United came through the group stage, thumped Porto 4-0 in the quarter-final and then lost narrowly to Borussia Dortmund in the semis.

The following year they won five of their six group games, and fell to Monaco in the quarter-finals in large part because injuries had ripped the spine from the team.

And in 1999? That is when it all came together, and the Champions League was won.

In other words, even though Sir Alex Ferguson's team were dominant at home - winning Doubles left, right and centre - it took five years to develop a style of play and a squad of players capable of going all the way in Europe.

Arsenal have experienced exactly the same thing.

In 1999, Arsene Wenger's first team of Premiership champions fell at the first hurdle, unable to get out of a group in which relative continental minnows Lens went through.

The following year saw them go almost all the way in the Uefa Cup - beaten on penalties by Galatasaray in the final - but the competition by that stage was very much for Europe's second-best.

Two seasons ago, they began to make Champions League progress.

Both group stages were successfully negotiated, only for a late John Carew goal in Valencia to deny them a place in the semis.

Last season they came through their first group and looked to be cruising into the quarter-finals, only to fall to pieces against Deportivo La Coruna and a half-interested Juventus.

But the manager, and his players, have learnt their lessons.

Long months, tough games

No longer is Wenger afraid to go into away games with attacking intent.

No longer are his squad in awe of the opposition they are coming up against, or the stage on which they perform.

Arsenal still have many long months and tough games to get through before Wenger's dream of taking the Champions League to Highbury becomes reality.

But the chance is there. And it is a better chance than has ever been present before.

Will Arsenal win the Champions League?



23908 Votes Cast

Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

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