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Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 May 2006, 06:38 GMT 07:38 UK
Arsenal aim to upset the odds
By Dan Warren

Arsenal are in the Champions League final for the first time in their history - but they face a tough task in Paris when they play Barcelona.

The in-form Catalans recently retained their Primera Liga title and start Wednesday's game as favourites.

But can the Gunners expect to upset the odds? BBC Sport investigates how the omens are shaping up for the Gunners.

CAPITAL GAINS?

It may seem surprising that Arsenal are the first team from London to reach the final of the European Cup or Champions League.

But in the competition's 50-year history, only five countries have had a team from their capital city take the honours.

Spain leads the way, with Real Madrid's nine triumphs, which makes them by far the competition's most successful club.

Amsterdam-based Ajax have four wins - although some may argue whether they qualify as a capital city club.

Although Amsterdam is the capital of the Netherlands, the seat of government of the country is based elsewhere, in The Hague.

Lisbon-based Benfica earned back-to-back triumphs for Portugal in 1961 and 1962 but have not taken the crown since.

Crvena Zvezda, better known in English as Red Star Belgrade, lifted the crown in 1991. Now the capital city of Serbia and Montenegro, Belgrade was also the capital of the former Yugoslavia when the club won.

To date, the only other capital city club to lift the European Cup was Romania's Steaua Bucharest, who beat Barcelona on penalties to triumph in 1986.

Capital city clubs who have made it to the final and flopped are Partizan Belgrade (1966), Athens-based Panathinaikos (1971), Atletico Madrid (1974) and Roma (1984).

Despite their reputation as footballing powerhouses, England, Italy, Germany and France have never seen a team from their capital lift the crown - a fact Arsenal will hope to change.

Verdict: Bad omen

FIRST-TIME NERVES?

The 50 finals of the European Cup and Champions League have been contested by 37 different teams representing 13 different countries.

Of those 37 teams, 22 lost on their first appearance in the final. Only 15 teams have won on their first final appearance.

And there are some big-name casualties on that list.

Barcelona were beaten on their first appearance in the final in 1961 against Benfica - and AC Milan (1958), Ajax (1969) and Juventus (1973) also lost.

Others, such as Eintracht Frankfurt (1960), Panathinaikos (1971), Leeds (1975) and Malmo (1979) have never repeated their trip to the final after losing at their first attempt.

Verdict: Bad omen

ENGLISH HEART?

Much has been made of the continental flavour of Arsene Wenger's Arsenal side.

Their only regular English starters are Sol Campbell and Ashley Cole and injury has reduced both to bit-part players since the turn of the year.

But Arsenal can take heart from the fact that English clubs have by far the best record in Europe when it comes to first-time appearances in the European Cup final.

ENGLISH FINALISTS
There has been an English club in the final on 12 occasions
In those finals, the English club has won 10 times
FOUR different English clubs have won - more variety than any other European nation
Manchester United (1968), Liverpool, (1977), Nottingham Forest (1979) and Aston Villa (1982) all won in their first appearance in the final.

Of the English debutants, only Leeds, beaten 2-0 by Bayern Munich in 1975, did not taste success.

The first-time record of Spanish clubs is not great. Real Madrid won the inaugural tournament in 1956 but Barcelona (1961), Atletico Madrid (1974) and Valencia (2000) were first-time failures.

Italian clubs are among the biggest in European football but as first-time finalists they have not performed well. Their sole success (Inter Milan in 1964) contrasts with five failures - Fiorentina (1957), AC Milan (1958), Juventus (1973), Roma (1984) and Sampdoria (1992).

Four different French teams have reached the final and all lost on their first appearance. Stade de Reims (1956), St Etienne (1976), Marseille (1991) and Monaco (2004) were the unlucky outfits.

Even the ice-cool Germans have not fared so well. Bayern Munich (1974) and Borussia Dortmund (1997) won on their first final appearance. However, Eintracht Frankfurt (1960), Borussia Moenchengladbach (1977), Hamburg (1980) and Bayer Leverkusen (2002) slipped up.

Verdict: Good omen

LEAGUE OF CHAMPIONS?

The European Cup was only open to domestic league winners and the cup holders from 1955-56 until 1991-92.

WE AREN'T THE CHAMPIONS
1998-99: Manchester United
Finished 2nd in previous season
1999-2000: Real Madrid
Finished 2nd in previous season
2000-01: Bayern Munich
Finished 2nd in previous season
2002-03: AC Milan
Finished 4th in previous season
2004-05: Liverpool
Finished 4th in previous season
(Champions League winners who were not domestic champions)
Since the introduction of the Champions League in 1992-93, the competition has grown and teams that do not win their domestic league can enter.

The 13 Champions League campaigns to date have led to domestic champions crowned as winners on eight occasions.

On the other five occasions, a club that did not win its domestic league triumphed in the cup.

Arsenal were runners-up to Chelsea last season and must try to emulate Manchester United in 1999, Real Madrid in 2000 and Bayern Munich in 2001, who all won the competition after finishing second the previous season.

Barcelona qualified as champions, which would seem to give them the edge in terms of the overall history of the Champions League - but recent years have been favourable to clubs that did not top their domestic league.

Verdict: The jury is out

PAIN IN SPAIN?

Since the inception of the Champions League in 1992-93, English clubs have taken on Spanish clubs 66 times.

And it is very much advantage Spain.

BARCELONA v ENGLISH CLUBS
Played: 20
Won: 10
Drawn: 7
Lost: 3
(Champions League matches played since 1992-93)
Of the matches, Spanish clubs have won 28 times, compared to English clubs' tally of 18 - with 20 draws.

Plenty of English clubs have taken a beating against Spanish opposition, with Barcelona being punishers-in-chief.

The Catalans famously dished out a 4-0 humiliation to Manchester United at the Nou Camp in November 1994.

They beat Arsenal 4-2 at Wembley in October 1999 and thrashed Chelsea 5-1 in Barcelona in the quarter-finals in April 2000, overturning a 3-1 deficit in the process.

A 4-0 rout of Leeds United came in September 2000 and they beat Liverpool 3-1 at Anfield in the second group stage in November 2001.

Even the few English wins have not been entirely glorious.

ARSENAL v SPANISH CLUBS
Played: 14
Won: 5
Drawn: 4
Lost: 5
(Champions League matches played since 1992-93)
Newcastle's 3-2 home triumph in the group stage in 1997-98 was memorable in itself - but both clubs crashed out in the group stages.

Chelsea's 3-1 home win over Barca in the 1999-2000 quarter-final was undone by that 5-1 extra-time reverse in the Nou Camp.

Only the Blues' 4-2 home win over Barcelona in the 2004-05 quarter-final proved significant, helping them to a 5-4 aggregate win.

Verdict: Bad omen

THE FRENCH CONNECTION

Thierry Henry (left) and Ronaldinho (right)
Will Henry (left) or Ronaldinho be celebrating at the final whistle?
Many column inches have been written about the link between Paris and the two big stars who will be on display in the final.

Arsenal's Thierry Henry is returning to his home city, while Barcelona's Ronaldinho first moved to Europe in 2001 to play for Paris Saint-Germain, where he spent two seasons.

Both will want to be the returning hero - but as a four-time European Cup final venue, Paris has been kind and cruel to English and Spanish clubs.

Liverpool beat Real Madrid 1-0 there in 1981 to lift their third European Cup at the expense of the Spanish giants - but it was also the venue of Leeds' 2-0 defeat by Munich in 1975.

Real Madrid beat their compatriots Valencia 3-0 in the all-Spanish final of 2000, while the Galacticos saw off Stade de Reims in the first competition back in 1956.

Verdict: The jury is out

THE VERDICT

There is no denying that the omens justify Arsenal's tag of underdogs for the final.

The bad outweigh the good by three to one, with two split decisions.

Happily for the Gunners, omens do not always prove decisive - and they need look no further than last season's final for inspiration.

Liverpool were second favourites going into the match against AC Milan. And even hardcore Reds fans pretty much gave up as their side trailed 3-0 at half-time.

What happened afterwards - Liverpool fought back to 3-3 before winning 3-2 on penalties - is part of European Cup folklore.

And Arsenal will hope to become a part of that on 17 May.




WATCH AND LISTEN
News conference: Arsene Wenger


Interview: Barcelona's Giovanni van Bronckhorst




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