By George: Arsenal and the '94 Cup Winners' Cup

By George: Arsenal and the '94 Cup Winners' Cup

With Arsenal booking their place in the Europa League final, this year marks the 25th anniversary of their last European trophy. Tom Adams speaks to Arsenal's captain and goalscorer from a famous 1-0 win in Copenhagen as he remembers a triumphant but now neglected side, built every inch in the image of its manager.

A funeral is not the most likely setting, nor perhaps the most appropriate, for a vigorous debate about a schism which has echoed through the decades in football. What is the best way to win?

It is a question which has produced profound philosophical divisions. From Clough and Revie, through Menotti and Bilardo, to Guardiola and Mourinho. At Arsenal, only 580 days separate the two great managerial reigns of the modern era, but they are two regimes diametrically opposed in their conception of the game. Either side of a brief interregnum, Arsenal metamorphosed from a team immortalised in The Full Monty as having the most tightly choreographed offside trap in football, to a team that were ‘always trying to walk it in’ in The IT Crowd.

George Graham and Arsene Wenger had contrasting views of how football should be played and understood, and in 2005 an impromptu internecine squabble for Arsenal’s soul played out at the funeral of long-standing staff member Bill Graves, the scout who stayed up until 3am convincing a 14-year-old Paul Merson to sign for the club.

“I remember them having this conversation,” Tony Adams, who captained Arsenal under both men, tells Eurosport. “I know Arsene always had arguments with George. He thought that George worked too hard and organised too hard and worked more on defence than offence and letting the team play. He said to George, 'if you let that team go, they would have won more'. And George in reply said, 'Arsene, if you organised your team a bit more they would have won more as well'. And then they departed.”

" Truly a victory for the dullest virtues and a denial of the game’s potential for grace"
Alan Smith and Steve Morrow celebrate on Upper Street

Alan Smith and Steve Morrow celebrate on Upper StreetGetty Images

As Wenger established a new aesthetic benchmark, both at Arsenal and across English football, following his appointment in 1996, en route to winning three league titles and a record seven FA Cups, Graham’s methodology aged badly by contrast. Indeed, it was hardly much admired at the time - even when Arsenal conquered Europe on a famous night in Copenhagen in 1994. As a reader in Beckenham, Kent, wrote to The Independent:

“Arsenal’s win in the European Cup Winners’ Cup must surely have been a profoundly depressing experience, truly a victory for the dullest virtues and a denial of the game’s potential for grace, imagination, subtlety and beauty. In comparison with their opponents, Arsenal were clearly inferior in technical ability and only able to spoil the game, with the added weapon of persistent fouling.”

But despite complaints from the neutrals - and a not insignificant contingent of Arsenal fans - the Cup Winners’ Cup campaign of 93/94 created indelible memories. An identity was being forged in those great tactical tussles, with three successive rounds including the final finishing 1-0 to the Arsenal. It was a song and a mission statement. An incantation which spread organically among the stands but the idea of which was painstakingly programmed on Graham’s training pitches. As Alan Smith, scorer of the only goal in the most famous such win in Arsenal’s history, tells Eurosport: “The '1-0 to the Arsenal' thing, which caught fire during that campaign, was a badge of honour. You want to be scoring more goals, but the fact we could grind out a 1-0 win was in our favour and we took pride in that.”

European trophies won by English clubs since 1994

For all Wenger’s stylistic garlands, 25 years - and three defeats in three Continental finals - have passed since Arsenal’s last European trophy. Graham's signature achievement has never been matched and the idea of football his team embodied never has been either. As Adams says: “These games, and that competition, that era, that European Cup Winners' Cup, is a dinosaur. It's the last there is. A high point, yes, but a dinosaur because the game has moved on. It's the best defence I've ever played in and I just admire it so much. It was just a phenomenal exercise of winning defensively.”

But nine months after this magnum opus of defensive football, Graham had departed the club in disgrace, his legacy forever tarnished. Copenhagen was to be his lasting monument.

1. 92-94: The genesis of a cup team

Ian Wright celebrates Arsenal's FA Cup win in 1993

Ian Wright celebrates Arsenal's FA Cup win in 1993Getty Images

Arsenal had won only one trophy since their double of 1970-71 before the appointment of Graham in 1986 transformed their standing at home and abroad. He was given the job at a fortuitous moment. Arsenal’s youth ranks produced six internationals in rapid succession with Tony Adams, Martin Keown, Michael Thomas, Paul Merson and Niall Quinn all coming through together. Everyone talks about the Class of ‘92 but not about the Class of ‘82,” says Adams. A lot of these things are about timing. George got there just when we were bursting at the seams.”

Thomas was responsible for the most famous goal in Arsenal’s history when his late winner on the final day at Anfield in 1989 secured the first of two league titles in three years. The second, in 1990-91, was won with the loss of just one league game. Graham’s Arsenal, at this moment at least, were no defensive dinosaurs. Top league scorers in 1988-89 and 1991-92, only Liverpool outscored them in the year of the second league title. And yet, by the time of the first Premier League season in 1992-93 they had somehow contrived to become the lowest scorers in the top flight. Arsenal had, initially by accident and then by design, become a cup team. Capable of edging tight one-off battles but without the flow and vigour needed to come out on top of a league campaign.

The reasons were manifold. A lack of creative wingers and midfielders coupled with the Arsenal board’s reluctance to finance big-name signings meant quality suffered. “The fans keep on to me about a midfield player,” said Graham in the summer of 1993. “They’re telling me nothing I don’t already know. I’ve been searching for one for three years now… there was only one outstanding midfielder available this summer - Roy Keane - and he chose Manchester United.”

A club record fee of £2.5m had been spent on Ian Wright in September 1991 but although he possessed preternatural finishing powers, the focus on Wright changed the balance of what had previously been a team which shared goals out. Adams also cites his own descent into alcoholism as a major contributing factor to this limitation of Arsenal’s horizons. “When the captain of the club is getting drunk most of the time and getting on the football pitch, it's got to affect the team,” he says. “I am putting in 30 half games as it were, and I played three times drunk that year (93-94). I had lost it completely off the pitch by that point as well and we became a very good cup team because I couldn't produce it week in, week out. That was just my alcoholism at that stage.”

Tony Adams poses with his trophy cabinet in 1994

Tony Adams poses with his trophy cabinet in 1994Getty Images

A major setback in Europe also helped to focus Graham’s plans for his side.

In 1991, Arsenal became the first English club to contest the European Cup in six years. A five-year ban resulting from the Heysel Disaster excommunicated all English clubs and Liverpool were banned for a further year, meaning their title win in 1989-90 did not provide a route to Europe. “I had really fancied the challenge of pitting my tactical wits against top Continental coaches,” wrote Graham in his autobiography ‘The Glory and The Grief’, “but I was outmaneuvered before I could get into my stride.”

" Was it a seminal moment? Absolutely"

After a simple 6-2 aggregate win over Austria Vienna in the opening round, Arsenal were drawn against Benfica. The Portuguese club were managed by a young Swede named Sven-Goran Eriksson; in their ranks they had a 19-year-old playmaker called Manuel Rui Costa and a tricky Brazilian No. 10 called Isaias. Benfica pulled a fast one in their domestic matches leading up to the first leg as Isaias was strategically rested, denying Arsenal’s scouting delegation of Steve Rowley, Steve Burtenshaw, Stewart Houston and Graham the chance to see him in action. When the first leg came in Lisbon, Isaias inflicted considerable damage. Graham reacted by instructing Paul Davis to sit on the Brazilian, with Paul Merson dropping deeper too, but it was too late.

Even if Arsenal escaped with a 1-1 draw in Portugal the chasm in quality was clear when Benfica won the second leg 3-1 with what Wright described in ‘Mr Wright’ as “one of the greatest displays I’ve ever seen from a club side”.

Benfica celebrate their second goal at Highbury

Benfica celebrate their second goal at HighburyReuters

A bitterly chastening night at least saw Graham achieve a certain clarity. Never again would his Arsenal side enter a European fixture underprepared and naive. “Was it a seminal moment? Absolutely,” says Adams. “We needed another three years of learning, so when we went back into Europe we had learned. And George had learned.” A turning point had been reached in Graham’s Arsenal reign. “[Graham] decided that from now on he was going to produce an Arsenal side that would pick up a cup the next season,” Wright added. “He knew, and the players all knew, that we just weren’t consistent enough to win the Championship.”

Arsenal’s transformation into cup specialists was complete when they won the first ever League Cup and FA Cup double in 1992-93, beating Sheffield Wednesday in both finals. “With that defence, and with Ian Wright normally nicking us a goal, it turned us into a very capable cup team,” says Smith. But it was earning Arsenal an unfavourable reputation too. Prior to the FA Cup final, Wednesday star John Harkes had unwisely described Arsenal as “Wimbledon with A-Levels. “Just before we came down the tunnel,” Wright recounted, “I shouted in his ear, ‘You w******, we’ll show you who’s Wimbledon with A-Levels’.”

Arsenal’s players may have bristled at the suggestion, but this was a team acquiring a certain notoriety. One clearly hewn from the character of the man in charge.

2. Graham: The man

George Graham pictured after he had been transferred from Chelsea to Arsenal

George Graham pictured after he had been transferred from Chelsea to ArsenalGetty Images

George Graham was not just Arsenal’s manager but their unofficial club historian too. The study of his home in Hampstead was, by his own account in ‘The Glory and the Grief’, “like a shrine to Arsenal.” Lined up on his shelves in neat formation were the autobiographies of managers past: Herbert Chapman, George Allison, Tom Whittaker, Billy Wright. Players too, like Cliff Bastin, Liam Brady, Alex James and Frank McLintock. “The history of Highbury is here,” he said proudly.

As a student of the club he would frequently contextualise seasonal patterns and results in terms of great triumphs of the past. He wore Arsenal’s history as his own and for Graham the two seemed inextricably linked. But how did a boy born into poverty in Scotland during World War II become the first man to win all three domestic trophies as a player and manager, and such a totemic figure in Arsenal’s history?

George Graham was born on November 30, 1944 in Bargeddie, a village in North Lanarkshire - on Winston Churchill’s 69th birthday as he enthusiastically notes in his autobiography. Just a few weeks later his father, Robert, died of tuberculosis on Christmas Day. His sister, Mary, would die of the same disease at 19. With seven children to raise in a world at war, his mother, Janet, worked in ‘tattie howking’, or potato picking. And in times of acute financial pressure, during her shifts she would hurl potatoes over a hedge to pick up later for her own gains. As Graham recalls, “she would take us all for a walk, me in my pram. She and my brothers and sisters would go to the field to pick up the pilfered potatoes and then return home with the spoils hidden beneath me inside the pram.” It was, by Graham’s own admission, a childhood which resembled “the start of a Charles Dickens novel.”

If Graham’s professional career drew directly from his paternal lineage – his father Robert Graham played for Albion Rovers and “grew up in the pit-village region that produced the likes of Matt Busby and Bill Shankly”, with his uncle, Alex, enjoying a spell with West Ham - it was nevertheless his mother who became his role model. Graham paints a picture of a woman who “knew how to dish out punishment”. Descriptions of being chased around the house and whacked with a broom handle for breaking a lamp while playing head tennis find an echo in how Wright later described Graham as, “a strict disciplinarian… if you stepped over the line, then you’d get slapped down. And when George slapped you down, you stayed slapped”.

George Graham marries Marie, with best man Terry Venables by his side

George Graham marries Marie, with best man Terry Venables by his sideGetty Images

Resourceful and firm, with a fierce work ethic, Janet Graham must have made quite the impression on the young George, who by the age of 11 was already holding down his first job delivering groceries. In ‘The Glory and The Grief’, he simply and sweetly describes her as his “manager of the century”.

" It was like watching football from another planet"

But if Mrs Graham’s iron will was to inform his approach as a coach, the young George could easily find himself seduced by fantasy too. On May 18, 1960, he was among the near 130,000 souls packed into a heaving Hampden Park to watch Real Madrid beat Eintracht Frankfurt 7-3 and win a fifth European Cup in succession. Ferenc Puskas scored four times, but, in a game which forged in Graham an early emotional attachment to European football, it was the scorer of Madrid’s other three goals who left a more significant impression.

"It was like watching football from another planet,” Graham wrote. “I have since played in hundreds of other games and watched thousands more, but I have never seen one to match it... It was Real’s seventh goal that has stayed etched in my memory. Di Stefano moved imperiously from a deep-lying position, exchanging passes with colleagues and always demanding the return of the ball before he ended his advance with a deadly accurate shot that beat the goalkeeper all ends up. It was a goal that deserved to be captured in oils. The breathless crowd, me included, gave both teams an ovation that lasted a full fifteen minutes after a magnificent match that has been preserved on film as evidence of how the game of football can be played at the highest level.”

As he made his own way in football the image of Di Stefano would not leave him. “I wanted to be an artist rather than an artisan,” said Graham of his younger years. “When you have seen the master, Alfredo Di Stefano… it can only make you want to try and imitate and emulate it.”

Graham signed for Aston Villa at the age of 17 and then joined Chelsea, where he won the League Cup in 1965 and became a regular fixture on King’s Road at the height of the Swinging Sixties. He opened a boutique with Terry Venables, developed a taste for designer gear and acquired the nickname ‘Big Fry’ in homage to an advert starring Australian model George Lazenby, who by 1969 had replaced Sean Connery as James Bond. “At Chelsea I had sown my oats and enjoyed myself on and off the pitch,” Graham readily admitted. “At Arsenal I grew up.”

He moved to North London in 1966 after being bought by Bertie Mee for £50,000 and within five years had won the Fairs Cup and the Double. Furthermore, a new rigour had entered his game. “After the casual, laid-back atmosphere at Chelsea, Arsenal - with their strict discipline and concentration on getting the job done - was a shock to the system,” wrote Graham. “From the moment I stepped inside the Marble Halls it felt the same as when I first put on a good tailor-made suit. It felt right.”

Graham joined Manchester United in 1972, with further spells at Portsmouth, Crystal Palace and California Surf, but nothing fitted him quite as well as Arsenal. And it was fate when, after his old friend Venables turned down the job, Arsenal came calling for a young manager with just four seasons at Millwall to his name in 1986.

3. Graham: The manager

George Graham proudly displays the Cup Winners' Cup

George Graham proudly displays the Cup Winners' CupGetty Images

If Graham had enjoyed something of a playboy reputation during his playing career that was soon extinguished with a move into management which saw him attract comparisons with some of history’s most notorious monsters.

A number of Arsenal players came to refer to Graham’s London Colney training pitches as ‘the killing fields’, an ironic nod to the Khmer Rouge genocide. David Seaman wrote in his book, ‘Safe Hands’: “We did call him Gaddafi for a while. Partly because they looked a bit similar but also because of the way he would act the dictator.” Anders Limpar’s verdict was even more brutal, telling Aftonbladet of the man who sold him prior to the semi-final against PSG in 1994: "George Graham's regime was like living in Iraq under Saddam. He was disgusting.”

“Well, we all called him that, didn't we?” laughs Tony Adams as he offers the captain’s perspective. “We all called him Gaddafi. He is a dictator and a leader. There was no democracy. We didn't sit around the kitchen... but it was of its time, you know? Society was a bit like that as well. Not everyone was talking about their stuff. Ferguson was managing in the same way up north. It was all fear. Not bullying, but you would describe it as driving your team on; to be passionate, enthusiastic. We talk about sticks and carrots. There weren't many arms going around the shoulders. If you are a player who is insecure, Martin Keown and these sorts of players, you are going to clash with George. He is not going to massage your ego. He's not going to go, 'well done Anders Limpar you were fantastic, go play, go play'. He's not that character. If you get talented players to work hard within the system then hallelujah. That's what his whole philosophy was.”

Graham, who had earned the nickname ‘Iron George’ early on his Millwall career after punishing six players with extra training following a disappointing performance, placed unrelenting effort at the heart of his ethos from his first day at Arsenal in 1986. Pre-season was a “nightmare”, according to Seaman, “just running, running and more running.” Graham used to take his players to Trent Park, near Cockfosters, for a daunting programme of cross-country running interspersed with press-ups and sit-ups. Then the day concluded with ‘the hill’, as “we had to sprint up and run down a steep hill at least four times.”

It was on the training ground that Graham felt most alive, as he instilled the discipline, organisation and rigour in his team which he felt was essential to success. After his sacking in 1995, Graham wrote that: “As I sit out my enforced exile, the thing I miss most of all are the training and coaching sessions. I feel as frustrated as a pianist who finds every piano-lid locked.”

George Graham moves his troops around the training field

George Graham moves his troops around the training fieldGetty Images

" I worked them into the ground"

When it came to defensive organisation, he played the notes as perfectly as Mozart. And it was on the ‘killing fields’ where the legendary defensive unit of Lee Dixon, Steve Bould, Tony Adams and Nigel Winterburn was created, modelled partly on Arrigo Sacchi’s AC Milan - “the only team which played offside better than us,” as Graham told The Guardian in 2017.

“I worked them into the ground until they had perfected zonal marking,” Graham wrote in his book. “I would sometimes use a pitch-width rope that the players would hold onto as they tugged and pulled each other while they disciplined themselves to staying in their zone.” It reached the stage where in games of four against six in training, the six attackers “would rarely even get a shot in,” according to Seaman.

So clear was the identity of his football team, Graham even occasionally lapsed into self-parody. In ‘The Glory and The Grief’, he writes with a Swiss Tony-esque flourish: "Gardening, for me, is like managing a football team. If you plan and prepare properly, you can create something beautiful to the eye. But, if you don’t lay the right foundations and sow the seeds with care, you can make a mish-mash of a team. Look there at the shallow trenches I have dug for the planting of next year’s roses. Note the perfect symmetry which will mean that my roses grow in a disciplined and decorative formation.”

In concert with his exhausting training methods, Graham also ruled his players with a climate of fear. As Wright describes, this was a man “with a temper that scared even senior professionals at times”. Seaman complained of Graham’s “puritan” streak which saw the manager confiscate his Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown videotapes on the team bus: “Anything violent or sexy was taken out of the machine straight away.”

George Graham puts John Jensen through his paces on the 'killing fields'

George Graham puts John Jensen through his paces on the 'killing fields'Reuters

He was a schoolmaster,” says Adams. “We were all kids. Naughty school children off the pitch I suppose. On the pitch, we did as we were told. I was personally too scared and I think a lot of the lads felt the same way. You poke fun sometimes when the teacher is looking the other way. You have a little bit of a laugh. But at work, definitely he was the head teacher and if he came in the room you stood up. 'Hi sir, morning!' We were kind of frightened to death of being late for matches, late for training, to do anything wrong.”

And it wasn’t just the players who felt the pressure of this maniacal work ethic. “I had driven myself into the ground for Arsenal with an obsession which cost me my marriage,” Graham reflected in his book. “When I was divorced after twenty years, the newspapers talked about my wife and another man. But the real co-respondent was Arsenal Football Club. For eight-and-a-half years I ate, drank and slept Arsenal, putting my wife and family a poor second.”

Thanks to his unyielding graft and expert coaching, Graham became the most important manager in Arsenal’s history since Herbert Chapman. But by 1993-94 these attritional methods were beginning to tire out his players, physically and mentally. Arsenal were no longer capable of the sustained brilliance which delivered two League titles in three years and discontent was growing about their style and methods. But there was still one arena in which Graham and his players wanted to prove themselves. Europe.

4. Pre-season politics, and priorities

Tony Adams shakes hands with Nelson Mandela

Tony Adams shakes hands with Nelson MandelaGetty Images

After the double cup wins of 1992-93, Arsenal’s pre-season took them to South Africa where they had the honour of meeting Nelson Mandela, three years after he was freed from prison. “He spoke to every player and was a very friendly and gentle man,” writes Seaman in his autobiography. “I shook his hand and I was surprised how soft it was.” This eminent occasion, however, doesn’t merit a mention in Adams’ memoirs, as he instead recalls smoking a joint outside a club in Johannesburg in the early hours.

“I had my head up my a***,” he tells Eurosport. “You know what I mean? 'He [Mandela] doesn't play central defender does he? What have I got to do with this guy?' It's a really naive, arrogant, sick mentality really. But like I said, that was the way I was at that point. But I did notice somewhere intrinsically that he was very peaceful and calm. Nothing like I was!

"It was part of my sickness I suppose. Injuries and pre-seasons, they were pretty dark. You'd get into some tricky situations and stuff. Off the pitch I was pretty bonkers and pretty sick. I did some bad s*** when I was sick. Weirdly, now I'm well I don't do any bad s*** but around that point, when I was injured or didn't need to play, if there was no football in my life, then I got into some scrapes and I took other people with me. So we ended up in a club at six in the morning.” All in all it was, as Seaman, wrote: “an unusual start to an unusual season for Arsenal Football Club”.

When the league campaign did get underway, in front of the new North Bank, redeveloped at a cost of £20m, the opening game was a dispiriting affair as Arsenal lost 3-0 to Coventry courtesy of a Micky Quinn hat-trick. The notion that Arsenal were now a team built for cup competition had been reinforced on day one and it was not long before the Cup Winners’ Cup campaign attracted more and more of Graham’s focus. Arsenal had been drawn to face Danish club Odense in the first round but with Ajax, Real Madrid, Benfica, Paris Saint-German and defending champions Parma all in the draw, it was almost the equal of the European Cup.

A view of Highbury's North Bank from the streets of North London

A view of Highbury's North Bank from the streets of North LondonGetty Images

Graham made no secret of his priorities for the season. “Just the names of some of the clubs blocking our path to the European Cup Winners’ Cup made my mouth water at the prospect of crossing swords with them,” he wrote in ‘The Glory and The Grief’. “It was the Cup Winners’ Cup that took my undivided attention in the 1993-94 season. I saw it as a challenge to my tactical perception and I spent hours studying videos and scouting reports and making secret trips to watch the opposition. I felt like a field marshal making battle plans.”

" George loves himself, you know?"

With memories of the Benfica defeat in 1991 still raw, an impressive European campaign was paramount for Graham, who, according to Seaman, saw Europe as “the ultimate test for a manager.” And it was a matter of personal, not just professional, pride.

"George loves himself, you know?” says Adams. “Part of six and seven steps of Alcoholics Anonymous is a right-sizing step. In my experience, players have got huge egos because they have been massaged all these years, but really low self-esteem. The ego needs to go down a bit, and the self-esteem needs to come up a lot. If we've got George on this, there's not a lot of self-loathing going on! There's this huge ego still. I think with time and with stuff that has happened to him it has come down a bit. But around the time when he was 'the coach, the man'...

"I'm sure he is a very competitive man - that character trait is in all of us. He wanted to be better than Ferguson, his Scottish rival. We had great battles with them - he thought of himself as better than Alex during those days… He would definitely have wanted to be a European equivalent of Sacchi, or Capello. He had that characteristic within him.”

5. Overturning Odense

Ron Atkinson, Alex Ferguson and George Graham pose with the European trophies

Ron Atkinson, Alex Ferguson and George Graham pose with the European trophiesGetty Images

George Graham’s match notes, first round, first leg, Odense, 15 September, 1993: 'Disastrous first twenty minutes. Doing the opposite to what is required. Diving in on a treacherous surface and leaving ourselves open. Odense awarded a penalty in the third minute after clumsy challenge from Linighan. Thorup hits a post from the penalty spot. Lucky Arsenal!'

Arsenal's first European outing on September 15 didn’t augur particularly well. Away at Odense, they went 1-0 down to a Martin Keown own goal on 18 minutes before strikes from Ian Wright and Paul Merson secured a 2-1 away win. Not the most convincing of reintroductions to the European game, but Graham was unwavering on his core principles. As he told a TV reporter: “I don’t think we should try and play the Continental style. I think we are used to playing a certain way in England. A lot of people talk in England about the passing game and all this, you know. Yeah you can pass and pass and not go anywhere. There’s got to be an end product to all the passing and that means efforts on goal, crosses - it means activity in the box. Because you can pass the ball all day long, but unless you get the ball in the box you won’t score.”

Nevertheless, there were adaptations for Continental competition. “George felt that we couldn't go into Europe with a 4-4-2 in the way that we did in the league and he decided that we would switch for the European campaign to 4-3-3 and bolster that midfield because we were getting outnumbered against Benfica. And it was a brilliant move on his part,” Alan Smith tells Eurosport. “We'd play 4-4-2 on the Saturday and then come into training on Monday with the game ahead on Wednesday and start working on shape with that 4-3-3. It was a change which served us well and I know George was really pleased about that. Tactically, he had found something which worked.”

Paul Davis hacks down Isaias in 1991

Paul Davis hacks down Isaias in 1991Reuters

It was a direct response to the trend of tricky No. 10s across Europe – like Isaias, who had done so much damage for Benfica in 1991. “In England it was all 4-4-2, two big centre-forwards and bang, smack it up there,” says Adams. “We had Peter Beardsley doing a bit, Teddy Sheringham, these kind of characters, playing like a No. 10. But a No. 10 always gave us problems in a 4-4-2. Do you step out of the line? Liverpool in the late 1970s early 80s were revolutionary with Kenny Dalglish. You would go in on Kenny, you've got to leave Ian Rush one-on-one and with his pace it's all over. George took the standpoint of going 4-5-1 so we could thicken it up. It's what most teams do today. That was the foundation blocks for how teams play today.”

In another tactical tweak that was to be repeated across the campaign, Graham also deployed Keown as a man-marker on Alphonse Tchami. Arsenal squeezed home in the return leg at Highbury, drawing 1-1. Kevin Campbell’s opener was replied to by future Tottenham midfielder Allan Nielsen but Odense couldn’t find another and, to great relief, Arsenal were through.

“It wasn’t spectacular,” wrote Wright in his autobiography, “but we went through 3-2 on aggregate so everybody was happy, including George, who had always wanted to make his mark in Europe following the way Arsenal had gone out to Benfica a few years earlier. That game had really hurt him because people started questioning his tactical ability against European sides, and whether he had what it took to compete against the best of Continentals.”

Any lingering doubts in that regard were totally dismantled in a second-round evisceration the likes of which had been rarely seen before.

6. Standard Deviation

Arsenal fans celebrate

Arsenal fans celebrateGetty Images

George Graham’s match notes, second round, second leg, Liege, November 3 1993: 'We silence the critics who have been calling us ‘Arsenil’ with one of the greatest attacking displays I have ever seen on an away ground. The Liege defenders throw in the towel after Alan Smith scores in the second minute, and if I had been their manager I would have been kicking a lot of backsides… My note-taking could not keep up with the action. It looked as if we would score with every attack.'

Arsenal’s league performances were already flagging by the time of the first leg of their second-round match against Standard Liege, with just two wins from six games. Manchester City visited Highbury four days before the Belgians made the same trip and even at this early juncture of the season, Graham was shifting resources to Europe. Keown, John Jensen and Merson were all rested for the Premiership game, which ended 0-0. Graham showed his workings: “The League is a nine-month race but two errors in Europe and you are out. I view Wednesday’s game against Liege as far more important than today’s.”

There were genuine fears Arsenal could lose to a Standard side managed by Arie Haan, a three-time European Cup winner alongside Johan Cruyff in Ajax’s Total Football team. The first leg also arrived at a moment of Dutch-inflicted national crisis: just one week previously, England had fallen victim to a dodgy refereeing decision and the greatness of Ronald Koeman, seeing their hopes of reaching World Cup ‘94 extinguished on an infamous night in Rotterdam. “Everybody started saying that this was it, the Belgians would walk all over us because they were so technically superior, they had bags of experience in Europe and it would be a case of them holding us at Highbury and then hammering us over there,” wrote Wright.

But Graham came prepared. Having learned a key lesson from the damaging defeat to Benfica in 1991, nothing was left to chance. As he explained in ‘The Glory and The Grief’, “I am meticulous with my planning and we never went into a game without having total knowledge of the individual strengths and weaknesses of the opposition.”

Steve Rowley was dispatched on spying missions as soon as the draw was made for each round, the first team would be given extensive video lessons about their opponents and Graham would even instruct the youth team to play in their expected style so there could be no surprises on the day. “Today you can get it on your phone in two seconds, but of its day it was very thorough,” says Adams. “You would go through the opponents' every single player before a match. We would know them. We went from that extreme to nothing with Arsene. It was like chalk and cheese. Every single player. 'This player, kick him Tony! He will go to sleep. This one's got no pace. This one is right-footed, this one is this...' He was meticulous.”

" Even their fans were cheering our goals. It was almost embarrassing"

Graham’s hard work paid off and far from being another low for English football inflicted by the Low Countries, Arsenal won 3-0 at home in the first leg with Merson on target and Wright scoring twice. Haan was promptly sacked before the second leg - which given what transpired can only be seen as a mercy killing. Wright - by now on a booking in Europe, for adherents of the Chekhov’s Gun principle - was rested by Graham but Arsenal still destroyed Standard 7-0. Smith lost his marker to head home a Merson cross after only 122 seconds; Ian Selley opened his account soon after; and Adams and Kevin Campbell both scored to make it 4-0 by half-time. Eddie McGoldrick then made an explosive cameo as a half-time substitute, assisting both Merson and Campbell before scoring a scorching seventh himself. “By the end,” wrote Seaman, “even their fans were cheering our goals. It was almost embarrassing as these were fellow pros getting slaughtered by their own fans as well as by us.”

For Graham, a 10-0 aggregate win was the ultimate riposte to those critics who trotted out the ‘boring Arsenal’ line. “We outpassed the Continentals,” he glowed after the second leg. Although not everyone was buying the story that Arsenal were a team reinvented. “People say we played differently,” said Lee Dixon in ‘George Graham: The Wonder Years’, “but in most games we played in a similar way. Even against Standard Liege. They were just crap.”

7. Turin proud

Ian Wright and Tony Adams celebrate the latter's goal

Ian Wright and Tony Adams celebrate the latter's goalReuters

George Graham’s match notes, quarter-final, first leg, Turin, March 3, 1994: 'This is football for the connoisseur, a battle of wits and we are winning it. The Torino players cannot understand why they are not flowing as usual. We are murdering them in midfield, where Hillier and Jensen are doing exactly what I asked of them… we have outwitted them, and might easily have won. What a tactical triumph!'

The destruction of Standard proved to be a wonderful anomaly with the advent of the quarter-finals, which witnessed a far more cautious and strategic affair against Torino. It had to be, with the Italian side boasting both Benito Carbone and Enzo Francescoli - the Uruguayan playmaker who left such an impression on a young Zinedine Zidane during his time at Marseille that Zidane later named his first-born son after him.

Arsenal’s 4-3-3 was proving effective in Europe and so Wright, still on that booking, was again left out of the starting XI for the first leg in Italy on March 2. Watching from the bench, though, he had the perfect seat to enjoy “a 0-0 draw which was as good a performance as smashing seven past the Belgians”.

Graham’s masterstroke was to adapt the role Keown played against Odense and sit David Hillier on Carbone as a man-marker, attempting to nullify Torino. And it worked perfectly. Another tactical triumph for Graham, even if it fed into a prevailing style which, by the time of the quarter-final, had left some supporters disillusioned. Nick Hornby, who published his debut novel Fever Pitch in 1992, wrote in a chapter of ‘George Graham: The Wonder Years’: “In the winter of 93/94… I caught myself thinking, well, maybe it would be for the best if he went now. Like most Arsenal fans, I hadn’t enjoyed myself much at Highbury for a good season and a half; even the double cup-winning year had provided very little in the way of excitement.”

" We loved a clean sheet. It was absolutely a badge of honour"

But there was no equivocation in the dressing room. The second leg against Torino - decided by an Adams header from a set-piece devised on the training pitch - was the first of three ‘1-0s to the Arsenal’ leading up to, and including, the final, and Graham’s players were making no apologies for the style in which their success was being achieved.

“It was fantastic, yeah. I was in the bath after every game, 'you will never, ever, pass the Arse!'” Says Adams, adopting a Churchillian tone. “I used to shout that like a nutter and jump in the bath after it. We loved a clean sheet, we loved a clean sheet. It was absolutely a badge of honour. Great pride in not conceding. And George, '0-0, fantastic!' The modern game has got nothing on it now. We used to love it. People used to admire tackling and organisation and stuff. When the Premier League kicked in it kind of went out of the window. No-one looks at this stuff any more. No one appreciates it. George loved it. I bumped into Alex Ferguson at Arsenal v Man Utd and he said, 'Tone, we used to go and watch games and you'd got an Italian team coming over to play you, you'd think, 's**t, we are never going to score, it's going to be f*****g nil, we'll do well to go away nil-nil'”.

8. PS Glee

Alan Smith and Kevin Campbell celebrate the win over PSG

Alan Smith and Kevin Campbell celebrate the win over PSGGetty Images

George Graham’s pre-match notes for the semi-final second leg at Highbury, April 12, 1994: 'Eight of you are on single bookings. You must not let this affect the way you play at all. I want each of you giving a hundred per cent. Anything less, and we could get taken apart by a team that only needs the slightest encouragement to produce football from another planet. Just don’t do anything silly to get into the ref’s notebook.'

Always “the field marshal making battle plans”, PSG coach Arthur Jorge was, by Graham’s own estimation, “the Rommel to my Montgomery”. The Portuguese had led Porto to the European Cup in 1987 and in the spring of 1994 his PSG side were certainly one of the finest teams on the continent, with George Weah and a young David Ginola at the heart of a side which entered the first leg on a 35-game unbeaten run stretching back to August 15, having also just knocked out Real Madrid in the quarter-finals.

Arsenal’s preparations were rather more turbulent. Graham had overseen just four wins in 10 league games since New Year’s Day and those supporters craving more invention and imagination from his side were unhappy to learn in the week before meeting PSG that Graham had sold Anders Limpar to Everton for £1.6m. A real fans’ favourite, the Swede scored 13 goals and was named Swedish Player of the Year during Arsenal’s 1990-91 league-winning season, with his electric displays on the wing adding another dimension to the team.

However, Limpar also had a tattoo on his shoulder of a mouse with its arms outstretched and “nothing’s perfect” written underneath. As a true perfectionist, this ethos was at odds with Graham’s essential being and it was a clear sign of where the Scot’s mind was that he viewed Limpar as an unnecessary extra going into a European semi-final. As he wrote in his book: “The fans fell in love with Anders and his box of tricks but for a manager he was an infuriating character. One game he would be an explosive match-winner, the next disappear without trace.”

“I have often been accused of being anti ‘the star’ player,” he added in a very Mourinho-esque passage. “That is nonsense. There is nothing I like better than to see a beautifully poised and skilful player dictating a game, but no matter how talented and worshipped he may be he has to work for the team when the opposition has the ball…. I needed players who helped to win matches, not just decorate them.”

Anders Limpar celebrates winning the title in 1991 with Steve Bould and David O'Leary

Anders Limpar celebrates winning the title in 1991 with Steve Bould and David O'LearyGetty Images

The front page of L’Equipe on the morning of the first leg in Paris read: “tonight is a night for men!” And, it might have added, man marking as Graham’s trick was repeated for a third time and with a third different figure: this time it was Steve Morrow handed a destructive brief as he was tasked with keeping Valdo quiet in a cacophonous atmosphere at the Parc des Princes on March 29. As Wright remembered: “Those were two of the toughest matches I have ever played in. The first leg was over there, and anybody who ever says French crowds lack passion wasn’t there that night because, boy, those were some pumped-up Frenchmen! There were firecrackers going off, the drums were beating and it felt like we were entering a cauldron of noise.”

Wright scored the opening goal with a header from another set-piece. “You could sense the mood in the stadium was ready to turn against PSG,” he wrote, “and that the French fans didn’t believe that their side could get themselves back in the game.” Nevertheless, the resplendent Ginola got one back on 50 minutes from a corner and turned his ire to the two defenders who were putting in a mammoth shift at the back. “He'd been having a running battle with Bouldy and Tony,” says Smith, “and doubled back and gave them a little mouthful when he was celebrating!”

Arsenal kept PSG at bay for the remaining 40 minutes in what was a true Graham masterclass. “The result in Paris was one of the best defensive performances I've ever been in,” Adams tells Eurosport. “Let alone the final. The final was incredible, [but] I watched it back recently and we weren't as good as I had thought. It's been romanticised a little bit. We were a bit lucky. I think the Paris one was better. To go to the Parc des Princes, I came back on the coach afterwards thinking 'f*****g hell... that was f*****g impressive', because they had some fantastic players.”

" It robbed me of one of the greatest days of my life"

The second leg on April 12 was overshadowed by one singular moment, one tragic outcome for Wright. Shielded by Graham through numerous rounds, that early yellow card came into play in devastating fashion when he clattered into Alain Roche near the touchline on an electric night at Highbury. Arsenal’s record signing, a man well on his way to becoming their all-time record goal scorer, later to be usurped by Thierry Henry, would miss the final.

“It robbed me of one of the greatest days of my life,” Wright wrote, in one of the rawest passages in his book. “My whole world crumbled in those few seconds. The tears started flowing and there was nothing I could do to stop them. I just wanted to get away from Highbury, away from football and away from the depression that had already grabbed me by the throat. The minutes up to the break were a blur and as soon as the referee blew for half-time I started crying again, and by the time I got to the dressing room I was just sobbing. I know George was only being professional but his mood and attitude just saw me hit boiling point. I came in and a few of the lads were trying to console me, but he cut through all that and said, ‘Wrighty, f*****g stop crying and grow up’.

Ian Wright in action during the first leg against PSG

Ian Wright in action during the first leg against PSGGetty Images

“That was it, the red mist came down and I went ballistic. I was shouting and swearing at him, calling him every name under the sun, kicking out at everything and generally wanting to fight the world. He gave as good as he got and I swear I don’t know how it didn’t end in punches. I just stormed into the showers, sobbing my heart out. I think Stewart Houston was coming in after me, but George shouted, ‘Leave the little cry baby alone to have his tantrum, we’ve a game to win’... Perhaps George was right to react in the way he did, after all he had ten other players to consider, not just my feelings, but at the time I needed an arm around my shoulder, not a kick in the groin.”

Mind you, Wright recovered sufficiently that he marked Kevin Campbell’s winning goal by downing beer, leaning naked out of a dressing room window into the street and spraying supporters with champagne as they passed, deliriously celebrating Arsenal’s passage to the final.

9. Climax in Copenhagen

David Seaman and Paul Davis celebrate

David Seaman and Paul Davis celebrateEurosport

George Graham’s pre-match notes for the Cup Winners’ Cup final, Copenhagen, May 4, 1994: ‘Must be careful not to show the players that I have any doubts about our ability to overcome Parma in the final. I would strongly fancy our chances if we could field a full-strength team but the squad has been decimated by suspension and injuries. Ian Wright is out, of course. So too are my specialist markers John Jensen, Martin Keown and David Hillier. I am going to have to inspire Ian Selley and Stephen Morrow to play the games of their lives. But am I sending boys to do men’s work? This is The Big One.’

Arsenal’s league form had continued to suffer as a result of their European exploits with two wins from seven in the Premiership since the first leg of the semi-final. Although disappointing, this was essentially part of Graham’s calculation as he threw everything at Europe. What was not part of the plan was the spate of selection issues which threatened to end Arsenal’s final against Nevio Scala’s Parma before it had even started.

“The main thing you think back on is how much we were underdogs really, with the injuries and suspensions,” Alan Smith tells Eurosport. “Ian Wright out, Martin Keown failing a late fitness test, John Jensen having done his cruciate. So George Graham didn't have too many choices, especially in midfield. Everyone knew how good Parma were: the coach had a great reputation, they were the holders of the trophy, a really good side. We went into it not expecting a whole lot.” Moreover, David Seaman suffered cracked ribs in an aerial challenge with QPR striker Bradley Allen just weeks before the final and required four pain-killing injections to play.

Like Arsenal, Parma had become cup specialists, winning the Coppa Italia in ‘92, the Cup Winners’ Cup in ‘93 and then the European Super Cup in February ‘94. Unlike Arsenal, they had benefited from heavy investment in their playing staff. Bankrolled by Italian food and diary giant Parmalat, which would eventually collapse in 2003 with a €14bn hole in its accounts in the biggest bankruptcy in European history, Parma had invested in such stars as Gianfranco Zola, Tomas Brolin and Faustino Asprilla. "I have watched Parma play so many times live and on video that I know them as well as I know my own team," wrote Graham in his pre-match notes. "They are sheer class, a beautifully orchestrated team with exceptional individuals."

Lee Dixon challenges Faustino Asprilla in the Cup Winners' Cup final

Lee Dixon challenges Faustino Asprilla in the Cup Winners' Cup finalGetty Images

While England was emerging from a period of exile, Italy was the dominant force with representation in all three European finals in 1993-94. And yet, Parma’s burgeoning ambition had bred discontent. It was well known that the Tanzi family, who owned the club, would attempt to win the Serie A title after the ‘94 World Cup so a number of loyal servants knew their time at Parma was effectively coming to an end. One such player was striker Alessandro Melli. The day before the 1993 Cup Winners’ Cup final, in which Parma beat Antwerp at Wembley, Melli had travelled to the grave of former Parma president Ernesto Ceresini to pay tribute to the man who built the club before Parmalat’s involvement. The day before the ‘94 final against Arsenal, he got a tattoo. At that point, some senior players knew they had a problem.

Scala was also under pressure for his tactical approach. Parma had been blessed to have Arrigo Sacchi before his move to AC Milan so were well versed in his modern strategies of zonal marking and pressing, so admired by Graham. Scala, who was instead inspired by Belgian coach Guy Thys, moved more towards a 5-3-2 formation and a defensive style of play. The signing of Zola had added a world-class forward but, mirroring the signing of Wright, also unbalanced the alchemy of the team. The Tanzi family had promised massive bonuses to the players for winning the final but this was a team that had become bloated, unhappy and complacent. And on the night before the game, it showed.

" Bouldy just took the piss. 'That's it, we've f*****g lost'"

“I just remember training on the pitch the night before, as you always do,” recalls Smith. “We were on first, we came off afterwards and the Parma lads were waiting to go on. They looked at us and we looked at them and we felt at the time they were looking down their noses at us a little bit and wondering who the hell this lot were. That geed us up a little bit. We were determined to make a fight of it.”

This interaction left an impression on a number of Arsenal players. “That was funny,” remembers Adams. “Bouldy just took the piss. 'That's it, we've f*****g lost'. He was always like that Bouldy, going up to Anfield [in ‘89] it was 'we're rubbish, we're rubbish, we're rubbish'. I think they laughed, they were laughing at us. They turned up with Burberry on, they were filthy rich… they all turned up a bit like George I suppose. All suave and sophisticated. We were all like the dog and duck. I kinda liked that. I liked that they had an arrogance. Confidence is good, but when you cross the line it becomes complacent. They did, absolutely. They thought, 'we've just got to turn up'. It was just, 'we're here again'. You become cocky.”

Parma were holders of the trophy after having beaten Royal Antwerp in the final at Wembley in 1993

Parma were holders of the trophy after having beaten Royal Antwerp in the final at Wembley in 1993Getty Images

It was not only Parma who were exuding the impression that the game was a foregone conclusion. When Arsenal arrived at the stadium on matchday they saw that their opponents’ name was already on the podium. “We were thinking, 'my god, even UEFA think Parma are going to win this',” says Smith. With Arsenal fielding a starting midfield of Ian Selley, Steve Morrow and Paul Davis, the governing body would arguably have been within their rights to make that assumption. The famous back five of Seaman, Dixon, Adams, Bould and Winterburn was safely in place but with Wright suspended, Alan Smith was given a lonely role up front with Merson and Kevin Campbell instructed to play wide in a 4-5-1.

Not that Adams would allow himself to be infected by any doubt. Even for a second. In ‘George Graham: The Wonder Years’, Bob Wilson memorably describes the captain on the morning of the game as looking “like John Wayne. His face was fixed like a mask and it never broke again until the final whistle. You could see him thinking, ‘This is the day of the battle’.” Reminded of the observation 25 years later, Adams cackles with glee. “In the zone mate, absolutely. Very unconscious at that point. But I knew, I knew, we were going to win. And it was the same in ‘98 when we were going into the [FA] cup final. I had the same face on, but this time I'm conscious. I had the same face on as John Wayne in ‘98 and I'm on the bus with David Platt. And I said to him, 'we've won, we've won'. He said, 'do we have to go and play then??' I said, 'don't worry, we've won'. Something in the gut, I don't know what it is, I can't put my finger on it... but I didn't feel that way the year after [in the ‘95 Cup Winners’ Cup final].”

Ian Wright and John Jensen watch from the sidelines ahead of the Cup Winners' Cup final

Ian Wright and John Jensen watch from the sidelines ahead of the Cup Winners' Cup finalReuters

Having annexed local loyalty thanks to the presence of Danish hero Jensen in their ranks, even if the midfielder was absent through injury, there was a growing swell of goodwill around Arsenal. It was estimated that Parma fans were outnumbered 4:1 at the Parken Stadium and the atmosphere grew ever more favourable when Arsenal DJ Paul Burrell commanded the PA system and played ‘Go West’ by The Pet Shop Boys on repeat. ‘1-0 to the Arsenal’ enveloped the stadium in a portentous manner. “Come on,” said Adams in the dressing room. No regrets. This is it.”

The immaculately dressed Parma almost gave Arsenal a dressing down inside 22 seconds when only a fantastic tackle from Bould stopped Asprilla getting a shot off from a Brolin pass. Three minutes later, Brolin headed over from an Antonio Benarrivo cross. After nine more minutes, Brolin whacked the ball off the post as Parma counter-attacked following Kevin Campbell’s failure to convert. But then, on 20 minutes, a goal from the blue.

There appeared to be little danger when a high ball dropped to Parma captain Lorenzo Minotti but he inexplicably tried to clear acrobatically. The ball fell to the feet of Smith - a striker who had lost his way that season, flitting in and out of favour and only scoring 10 goals - and he met it on the bounce, firing in off the post. “I was surprised that the lad tried to overhead kick it,” Smith tells Eurosport. “He made a bit of a mess of it and he didn't really need to do that because he wasn't under any pressure. It came straight to me and onto my chest so that made up my mind. When it was bouncing in front of me I could see the defenders converging and I had to take it fairly early so take the ball high. I did a little hop and I knew I had connected well with it. It was only after the keeper had dived and fallen to the floor that I saw it had ended up in the back of the net… It was a great feeling because it came at a time when I wasn't scoring so many goals, I wasn't enjoying my football anything like what I had been so it was a nice bit of relief, really.”

Chants of ‘1-0 to the Arsenal’ cascaded down from the stands once more. Proud, unyielding. The script was written. "All my doubts now disappear," read Graham's match notes. "I know that with the cushion of a goal lead we can now go on to win because our defence is unbreakable." Nevertheless, it required a superhuman intervention from Seaman to keep Arsenal in front before half-time as he threw out an outstretched arm to palm away a fierce shot from Zola. Seaman rated it as “one of the best saves of my career… it was on my right side, too, where the ribs were cracked, so it proved the injections worked”.

Alan Smith celebrates victory over Parma

Alan Smith celebrates victory over ParmaGetty Images

The second half was a masterclass of resilience from Arsenal as they smothered their opponents. Graham instructed his defence to push up and "cramp the midfield" to stop Parma's passing flow. As Joe Lovejoy wrote in his report for The Independent: “Few teams do it better when it comes to defending a lead, and they slipped comfortably into what we have, we hold mode… Parma were frustrated. Adams and Bould were colossal in defence, the work rate of the midfield reserves was such that Jensen was never missed.”

Alan Smith remembers it slightly differently: “They had a few moments which could have gone the other way. Lee Dixon ploughed into somebody and even Lee admits that it was a stick-on penalty. How he got away with that... Their finishing maybe wasn't as sharp as it might have been. They hit the woodwork a couple of times. And we just rode our luck big time on the night.”

There was even a heart-stopping moment in injury-time when Minotti, desperate to make amends for his earlier mistake, had the ball in the net. The accompanying offside flag wouldn’t have been raised in the modern game as it was an inactive player who had fallen foul of Arsenal’s most accomplished trick. Minotti was on. But Parma, against all expectations, were off home without the trophy. 1-0 to the Arsenal it stayed.

" Was it the crowning moment for that back four? Absolutely"

For Graham, his first European trophy as a manager was not only vindication of a season’s body of work, but a career’s. It confirmed everything he believed about his methods. As he wrote in ‘The Glory and The Grief’: “The victory over Parma is a performance that, for me, matches even that of our first Championship victory at Anfield. I know in my heart that we were not the most skilful team in the tournament. And we were one of the least experienced in terms of European competition. But we were the best prepared and, even if I say it myself, the best organised…. It underlined what can be achieved by the right application and commitment, and a good dose of what I can best describe as British bulldog spirit.”

Scala was reported to have been heard muttering the word “negativo” in his press conference as he digested Arsenal’s shock victory. Even Morrow expressed minor disquiet in the throes of victory. “It was a bit restricting,” he said of his role. “I do like to get forward, unfortunately, someone’s got to do the job. I knew exactly what to do. I had to be very disciplined. It was a question of: do you want to be pretty or do you want to win things?”

Above all else this was a defensive triumph. Diminished in midfield and attack, Arsenal’s famous unit scaled new heights in Copenhagen. “Was it the crowning moment for that back four? Absolutely,” says Adams. “I always say the worst back four I ever played with was that back four. The worst individually. When I started, Viv Anderson was the right-back, two European Cups, Kenny Sansom at left-back, 86 caps, David O'Leary, 722 appearances [for Arsenal]; when I finished, Lauren, Cameroon international, Sol Campbell, Ashley Cole, probably the greatest left-back. But as a unit…”

Arsenal lift the Cup Winners' Cup

Arsenal lift the Cup Winners' CupGetty Images

In terms that would have delighted Graham, who was so intent on proving his tactical prowess in Europe following the Benfica humiliation of ’91, Scala was generous in his praise of the winners. “Arsenal were the better side,” he admitted. “They showed how to control our system of play and to me they are the least typical English side I’ve ever seen.” A backhanded compliment is still a compliment.

Ultimately, though, Graham contextualised his greatest victory as deeply embedded within the code of English football, rather than apart from it. At the end of the season, he said: “People forget that the majority of games in countries like Spain and France and other countries, are a pain in the backside. The teams pass the ball to death, nobody has a shot, there’s no physical contact and the stadiums are empty. The great thing about the English game is the passion. Sure, we could always improve our technique, but are we going to sacrifice all the other things for technique?”

10. A painful postscript

Arsenal parade the Cup Winners' Cup

Arsenal parade the Cup Winners' CupGetty Images

On the morning after the final, Gazzetta Dello Sport hammed it up with a playful headline: ‘Parma Cotto’. The pun, referencing the local delicacy, had a literal translation of ‘Parma cooked’. But, just as he had established his name in Europe, Graham’s sell-by date was approaching too. When allegations surfaced in the autumn of 1994 that Graham had accepted bungs from agent Rune Hauge in relation to the signings of Jensen and Pal Lydersen it set in motion a chain of events that would see Arsenal’s greatest post-War manager lose his job by February. It was a period which, Graham reflected, “might have pushed some people towards the whisky bottle or even a suicide bullet.”

Graham returned the money, which he described as an “unsolicited gift”, but Arsenal sacked him for misconduct over the £425,000 payments. Graham was distraught about how he had been treated by his employers. “George did love the position, that's why it must have been really difficult for him when they let him go,” Adams says. “It must have really hit him, it must have been really painful… He didn't get questioned because he was so trusted. Because we had been so successful he could pretty much do what he wanted. Did he feel invincible? I think so. And in hindsight, that was probably a massive mistake.”

It was a bitter way to end a relationship which had cost Graham his marriage. And when Arsenal, still reeling from the controversy, returned to the Cup Winners’ Cup final again in May 1995 under the control of caretaker manager Stewart Houston, they lost to a gut-wrenching wondergoal from Nayim.

George Graham shows off the Cup Winners' Cup

George Graham shows off the Cup Winners' CupGetty Images

When the final calculations are made about Graham’s legacy at Arsenal, the trophies speak for themselves. Two league titles, three domestic cups and one European trophy in eight full seasons. As Graham himself wrote, acknowledging the abrasive nature of his management style: “The players at Arsenal may not like me, but they respect me and they want to be associated with success.”

And in the end, this approach won over some prominent critics. Hornby, who had wanted Graham out in the winter of 1993, conceded:During the Cup Winners’ Cup final, as Brolin and Asprilla and Zola and the rest slowly got caught up in Arsenal’s constricting webs, you couldn’t help but feel proud of a team that seems to be able to beat anyone, however superior on paper. And there it is, the old dilemma: would you rather support a team that thrills, or a team that wins things?”

But for Graham, it wasn’t really a dilemma at all, as the most famous of all 1-0s to the Arsenal demonstrated. “The word George always used was resilience,” says Adams. “Resilience, resilience, resilience. And that was Copenhagen.”

IntroductionBy George: Arsenal and the '94 Cup Winners' Cup
  • Chapter 11. 92-94: The genesis of a cup team
  • Chapter 22. Graham: The man
  • Chapter 33. Graham: The manager
  • Chapter 44. Pre-season politics, and priorities
  • Chapter 55. Overturning Odense
  • Chapter 66. Standard Deviation
  • Chapter 77. Turin proud
  • Chapter 88. PS Glee
  • Chapter 99. Climax in Copenhagen
  • Chapter 1010. A painful postscript