London – The great Champions League winners are easy to remember.
No-one tires of talking about them and they left you wanting more.It felt as though Marcel Desailly, Zvonimir Boban and Paolo Maldini were re-inventing the game when their breathtaking Milan team were tearing Barcelona apart in 1994 at the Olympic Stadium in Athens.
More than a decade later it was Barca who took the game to another level when Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi lifted the European Cup on three occasions. They are footballing gods. In May, Arjen Robben, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Franck Ribery were added to the list of great names when Bayern Munich beat Borussia Dortmund at Wembley.
Which brings us to Arsenal, where praise is being lavished on Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere and Mesut Ozil like never before. They can do no wrong. Arsene Wenger’s side are a joy to watch, setting the pace in the Barclays Premier League and opening their Champions League group with successive, impressive wins over Marseille and Napoli. Commentators are beginning to ask: just how far can this Arsenal fly? Can they win the title? Are they genuine European contenders?
“The feelgood factor is down to the quality, the solidarity of the players and their desire to do well,” claimed Wenger. “We want to be successful and for that you need a special hunger. These players have a special hunger. If we do well we will be difficult to handle.”
They are a force again. Since the 2-0 victory over Bayern Munich in the Allianz Arena on March 13, Arsenal have won 19 of their 24 matches. Defeat by Aston Villa on the opening day of the season is their only setback since March. But the deeper they get into the season the bigger the tests.
This evening, Jurgen Klopp’s Dortmund will provide formidable opposition. Robert Lewandowski, Jakub Blaszczykowski and Marco Reus were beaten finalists last season. They’re in the mood for more. Before the 2-0 victory over Napoli at the Emirates last month, Wenger spoke of his Champions League obsession. On Monday, he replaced it with a desire for perfection. He watched Bayern Munich’s destruction of Manchester City at the Etihad last month, entranced by the manner of its execution. No side is operating at the level of Pep Guardiola’s at this moment. They can beat anybody.
Wenger stands by his assertion, made the day before Bayern’s 3-1 victory at City, that they are “super favourites” to win the Champions League. He said: “From what I saw of Bayern at Manchester City they are very impressive. They are the team who have impressed me the most. That performance was the best we have seen anywhere since the start of the season.
“We are in a very difficult group with Napoli, Dortmund and Marseille, but if we get out of it we will have a chance to get to the final. At the moment it’s too early to think about it. The job is in front of us to get out of the group.”
Klopp believes his countryman Ozil is the key if Wenger is to enjoy Champions League success. Klopp said: ”Two or three months ago everyone wanted Arsene Wenger to spend £80million – then he took Flamini for nothing, a good idea, and then Mesut.
“This team missed one player and maybe it can be Mesut. Of course they are strong enough to go to the Champions League final.”
Arsenal versus Dortmund could be a purists’ dream, a game played almost exclusively on the deck of the Emirates’ inviting playing surface. Last weekend, Arsenal’s players took 828 touches of the ball during their 4-1 victory over Norwich; Dortmund had 713 in their 1-0 win over Hannover 96 in the Westfalenstadion. There will be some magic moments.
“The German teams have a desire to play and they come with a positive attitude,” added Wenger. ”We have some German players and we know their quality. It makes it an open game. They don’t hide. We don’t hide and it will be exciting. We are always looking for perfection and that keeps me going as a manager.
“What is good for me is that after a period of frustration for our fans we can make them happy again and let them enjoy the game.”
As Wenger marked his 64th birthday he remarked that were it not for uncomfortable reminders from family, friends or his mischievous players it would pass him by without fuss or fanfare. He has achieved so much in 17 years at Arsenal, winning three Premier League titles and four FA Cups. But the European Cup has eluded him.
Arsenal’s manager has never been able to bring himself to watch a re-run of the 2-1 Stade de France defeat against Barcelona in the 2006 final. Seven years on, he still complains that Samuel Eto’o’s equaliser for Frank Rijkaard’s all-star team was offside. It is just Wenger’s way. He is rarely satisfied and his life has become a series of checkpoints and chequered flags.
He added: “For me, happiness in life is a succession of happy moments. The real test is in front of us.
“We can’t be triumphant at the moment. We have big targets, big teams and big fixtures in front of us.
“Afterwards you can be judged on global achievements. We want people to look back and say, ‘That was a fantastic season’ but that will be decided in May. Until then, let’s experience some quality.”
After that, they can start to think what it would feel like to be champions. – Daily Mail