Morning all. I've Wednesday and Thursday off work to go to the Roma game with Obsinho. We don't fly until tomorrow but I am already nervous with excitement.
The Champions League is not a perfect format, by any means, and the purists out there deride it compared to the straight knock-out format of the European Cup, but I am a massive fan of the Champions League. In the last ten years, we have watched Arsenal play the likes of Milan, Inter, Juve, Real, Barca, Ajax, Valencia, Bayern - all at a time when those teams were near the top of their games. Once you add the trips to far flung corners of Romania, Russia and Ukraine in to the picture, then you appreciate just what a spectacle we are now witnessing on a regular occassion.
In contrast, the 'glory' years under George Graham, are a short memory. The second round exit against Benfica in 1991 was our only impact in Europe's premier cup competition. Now that is not to be too harsh, on the good runs we had in the Cup Winners Cup, which had some massive highlights, not least the 1994 final against Parma, but I think we need to remember the CWC was Europe's third tier competition and was viewed about as badly as we now see the Uefa Cup. I certainly told my Chelsea supporting friends so when they beat Stuttgart to win the CWC in 1998.
And that, also, perhaps goes to show where Arsenal are now after 10 years with Wenger in charge. In 1997 we scraped into the UEFA cup, and then lost first road to the (un) mighty POAK Solonika. We then took a bit of time to adjust to the Champions League, but we now have one of the best records in Europe at qualifying for the competition, and doing quite well in it.
There is also a good record in the competition for teams who are struggling a little bit in their domestic leagues to do well in the Champions League. Arsenal and Liverpool are prime examples from England. We just finished 4th when we got to the final, Liverpool finished 5th and 4th respectively (I think) the years they recently got to the final.
And so our recent improvement in form gives me some confidence that we will be too strong for Roma tomorrow. That said, this Roma side topped their group and convincingly beat Chelsea in Roma earlier in the season. European teams are notorious for playing a tight game away from home and then trying to force a result in the return leg.
So the first goal tomorrow is going to be crucial. If we score first, then we are in a very strong position. Conversely, if Roma score first, then its squeeky bum time. Either way, I can't wait for the game....