Despite being one of the biggest clubs in England, Arsenal have always struggled in Europe.
The club are yet to win the European Cup, with 2006’s final defeat to Barcelona the closest they have come, while persistent failure to get beyond the round of 16 in recent years has summed up The Gunners ineffectiveness in Europe’s elite competition.
Arsene Wenger’s man will drop down a level next season, playing in the Europa League, formerly known as the UEFA Cup. But, the club have not faired much better in that competition, with a final defeat to Galatasaray in 2000 their best showing.
However, there is one European competition where Arsenal have tasted success.
The Cup Winners’ Cup.
Having beaten Sheffield Wednesday 2-1 in the 1993 FA Cup final replay, Arsenal qualified for the 1993/94 edition of the Cup Winners’ Cup, going straight into the first round.
I am going to take you on a journey through Arsenal’s Cup Winners’ Cup story, so sit back and enjoy.
15th September 1993, Odense 1-2 Arsenal
George Graham’s Arsenal travelled to Denmark to face Odense in the first leg of the first round.
Odense had narrowly defeated Slovenian side Publikum 1-0 on aggregate to set up a tie with The Gunners, and they seemed like relatively easy opposition.
However, with two minutes gone, Steve Bould dived in to tackle Jess Thorup inside the penalty area and brought the striker down. Despite Arsenal players saying that Thorup had dived, the referee pointed to the spot.
There was to be a reprieve though, as Thorup got to his feet, dusted himself down and then dragged the penalty wide of the post. Arsenal were off the hook.
Odense did take the lead on 18 minutes though.
A short corner was driven into the penalty area and struck Martin Keown, with the ball ricocheting into the net past a motionless David Seaman. Not the start Arsenal wanted or expected.
It took until 10 minutes before half-time for Arsenal to equalised.
A clever free-kick routine about 30-yards from goal saw Nigel Winterburn drive a shot goalwards which was spilled by the ‘keeper, straight into the path of the onrushing Ian Wright who completed the simple task of slotting into the empty net.
Both teams had chances in the second period to take the lead but, it took a bit of magic from Paul Merson to give Arsenal a vital away lead.
Skipping past two defenders at pace, riding challenges from both, he burst into the box and slid the ball under the oncoming goalkeeper and beyond the defender racing onto the line, giving The Gunners a 2-1 win in Denmark.
29th September 1993, Arsenal 1-1 Odense
After a goalless first-half at Highbury, Kevin Campbell killed off the tie in the 52nd minute, finding space at a corner to head the ball home from six-yards out.
Odense grabbed an equaliser with four minutes left through Allan Nielsen but it wasn’t enough, as Arsenal won 3-2 on aggerate to progress to the second round.
20th October 1993, Arsenal 3-0 Standard Liege
It was the same combination of goal scorers from the first round first leg that gave The Gunners a resounding first-leg lead against Belgian side Standard Liege.
A high, looping Martin Keown cross was met by Ian Wright with almost 40 minutes on the clock, who beat the Liege ‘keeper to the ball, heading into an empty net in front of the North Bank.
Five minutes into the second half and Paul Merson doubled Arsenal’s lead with yet another magic goal. Standing over a free-kick about 25-yards from goal, the Englishman got it up and over the wall, with the ball nestling in the top corner.
Paul Davies could have made it 3-0 if his long-range shot hadn’t cannoned off the post, but Ian Wright did make it three with just under half an hour to go.
Winning the ball back inside their own half, Arsenal counter-attacked at pace, with Paul Merson slipping a pass through to Wright, who kept his composure and delicately lifted the ball over the goalkeeper and sliding defender into the far corner.
3rd November 1993, Standard Liege 0-7 Arsenal
Arsenal could have taken it easy in Belgium and defended a 3-0 lead, but unlike a normal George Graham side, they attacked repeatedly and romped to a 7-0 win.
With just three minutes gone, Paul Merson floated a cross to the far post for Alan Smith to volley home the opener, and the lead was doubled when Ian Selley arrived late in the penalty area to drive a shot into the bottom corner with just 20 minutes gone.
Tony Adams scored a rebound from a corner in the 36th minute to make it 3-0 before Kevin Campbell raced onto a long clearance to lift the ball over Jacky Munaron in the Liege goal and give Arsenal a 4-0 lead on the night, 7-0 on aggregate.
After a lull in the second half, Paul Merson tucked home from an Eddie McGoldrick cross in the 73rd minute for 5-0, and McGoldrick also created the sixth, finding Campbell at the near post for a simple tap-in.
McGoldrick then scored Arsenal’s seventh with what was the goal of the night.
David Seaman collected a cross and immediately launched the counter attack with a superb throw out to Paul Merson on the right-hand side. Merse played in McGoldrick who was racing past him on the inside.
Getting his head up, the midfielder took one touch to set himself before slamming the ball into the roof of the net to make it Arsenal 7-0 Standard Liege, 10-0 on aggregate.
2nd March 1994, Torino 0-0 Arsenal
Arsenal were rewarded for thumping Liege with a quarter-final clash against Italian side Torino.
However, this tie was to be nowhere near as exciting, action packed or goal filled, but was incredibly tense for The Gunners.
Both teams had chances, with the Turin-based club forcing David Seaman into a couple a saves while missing some guilt edged opportunities.
Arsenal’s best chance fell to captain Tony Adams, but the defender could only poke agonisingly wide as he stretched to meet a glancing Ian Wright header at the far post.
The game finished 0-0, and the teams faced off in North London with it all to play for.
15th March 1994, Arsenal 1-0 Torino
Once again, it was a tense game but one that Arsenal would win by the narrowest of margins.
Unlike the first leg, they dominated Torino, with Brian Jensen volleying just over, while Ian Wright and Nigel Winterburn both saw good chances saved.
However, it was Tony Adams who scored the all important goal, making amends for his miss in Turin.
Paul Davies floated a free-kick towards the far post, with Adams getting in front of his marker to head the ball down into the corner and wheel away in celebration as Highbury erupted with noise.
Arsenal kept Torino out for the remaining 25 minutes to earn safe passage through to the semi-final, 1-0 on aggregate.
29th March 1994, Paris Saint-Germain 1-1 Arsenal
The Gunners would have to overcome their toughest test yet if they wanted to reach the final, as they were drawn against a PSG side that included French wizard David Ginola and future Ballon d’Or winner George Weah.
However, it was Arsenal that took the lead in the 35th minute.
Another free-kick from Paul Davies created it, with Ian Wright once again getting his name on the scoresheet as his flicked header found the bottom corner, stunning the Parc des Princes.
Arsenal’s lead lasted five minutes into the second half, when Valdo’s corner was met by Ginola at the near post, with the attacker somehow heading the ball past David Seaman.
Alan Smith could have won it with minutes left but his chip was well saved by Bernard Lama.
George Graham’s side had the away goal though, giving them a huge second leg advantage.
12th April 1994, Arsenal 1-0 Paris Saint-Germain
The Gunners could not have hoped for a better start at Highbury, as they took the lead inside 10 minutes.
Lee Dixon whipped in a brilliant ball from the right and Kevin Campbell met it at the near post, heading the ball downwards, with Bernard Lama only able to touch it onto the post and into the back of the net.
From there on in, it became a typical George Graham era Arsenal performance as his side defended for their lives, with David Seaman making a number of saves to see Arsenal into the final of the Cup Winners’ Cup.
However, Ian Wright picked up a yellow card, meaning that The Gunners star striker would miss the final against Italian club Parma.
4th May 1994, Arsenal 1-0 Parma
Arsenal faced Parma in the final at the Parken Stadium in Copenhagen, Denmark, with the Gunners returning to the country where their Cup Winners’ Cup journey had begun almost eight months previous.
Parma may languish in the lower leagues of Italian football today following financial trouble, but back in 1994, they were a real force to be reckoned with, especially in attack.
Their team that night included three players who would all go on to fame in England, with Swedish maverick Thomas Brolin, Colombian livewire Faustino Asprialla and Italian magician Gianfranco Zola all in the starting XI.
The Italians started the brightest, with the three players mentioned causing the danger.
Brolin almost played in Asprilla with just 20 seconds gone but Steve Bould cut out the danger superbly before Brolin headed onto the roof of the net from a cross in the third minute.
Arsenal had chances early on to, with Kevin Campbell’s looping header dropping just inches wide of the post the most notable.
Parma then came even closer, as the deadly trio combined.
Asprilla broke at pace, finding Zola, who in turn found Brolin on the right of the penalty area. The future Leeds United man fired across goal, with the ball coming off the post, flashing back across the face of goal and behind to safety.
Despite most of the chances falling the way of Parma, it was Arsenal who took the lead.
With 20 minutes gone, Italian defender Lorenzo Minotti hopelessly miss hit an overhead kick clearance, with the ball falling to Alan Smith. The striker chested it down, let it bounce and then hit a thunderous half-volley off the post and into the net, sending the travelling Arsenal fans into raptures and giving The Gunners a 1-0 advantage.
With Parma’s attacking threats causing Arsenal all sorts of problems, a classic ‘1-0 to the Arsenal’ performance was required, and that’s exactly what we got.
The Italian club continued to have chances, with Zola hitting a free-kick onto the roof of the net before forcing a wonderful one-handed save from David Seaman, all inside the first-half.
Into the second-half and it was all Parma still.
Asprilla and Zola both had penalty appeals turned down in quick succession and Minotti thought he had made up for his error only to see his equaliser disallowed.
As the seconds ticked down Parma tired having huffed and puffed but failed to blow a resolute Arsenal down.
Alan Smith has a shot deflected behind for a corner with seconds left, with the referee immediately blowing for full-time after it was taken, and that was that, Arsenal had done, they had won the 1993/94 Cup Winners’ Cup.
That was only the second and last European trophy that Arsenal have won.
Next season’s Europa League represents a realistic opportunity to end that drought, but if The Gunners are to do so, they will need lionhearted performances like the team of 1993/94.
It could be done.
As for the team of 1993/94, they probably won’t go down as one of the greatest sides in Arsenal history but, they are certainly history makers who’s European adventure was one of battling performances and brilliant football.
So, for that, we salute you.