Today there is expectation. Expectation that the minimum requirement is the Arsenal will qualify for the Champions League; expectation that we will get through the group stage. But it hasn’t always been thus. Even under Wenger we haven’t always had this level of activity.
Arsenal never qualified for the European Cup in its earliest form because by the time the Cup started we had stopped winning the league. We started in fact in the 1963/4 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, losing in the second round to Royal Football Club de Liège.
Our second attempt was 1969/70 – so six years later – and we won it. Our first trophy after 17 years of nothingness, including a fair amount of time under George Swindin and Billy Wright.
As winners we played the following season and got to the semi-final, something often forgotten, what with winning the Double at home. But as a result of winning the Double we entered the European Cup for the first time, going out in the quarters.
Then we had a period without European football again (can you imagine that now?) and that continued until 1978/9 when we played in the Uefa Cup followed by the 1979/80 Cup Winners Cup. This was the campaign in which Paul Vaessen scored in the semi-final only to lose to Valencia in the final on penalties.
In both 1981/2 and 1982/3 we went out of the Uefa Cup in the early rounds, and then following the riot by Liverpool fans at Heysel English teams were banned from football outside England.
Winning the league under Graham at Anfield took us nowhere as the ban was still on but the second league trophy took us back into the European Cup, and we went out in the second round to Benfica, being beaten in extra time at Highbury.
1993/4 saw another bash at the Cup Winners’ Cup, where we beat Parma in the final with three key members of the squad missing. It was ever thus.
The following year we returned to the final, with Stewart Houston as manager, but lost in the last minute – something which Tottenham fans, with nothing much to celebrate of their own, often remember in song.
Arsene Wenger had hardly got the job at Arsenal when we played in the Uefa cup and were knocked out at the first stage. In 1996/7 we again went out in the first round to PAOK Solnika. and then entered the first Champions League as Champions. We went out in the group stage, playing at Wembley.
The following season we qualified again, but again failed at the group stage and so dropped into the Uefa Cup, and reached the final. We played Galatasaray and lost on penalties. Patrick Vieira missed one, as did Davor Suker.
You’ll know of course, because of the record Arsenal has achieved since then, that we have been in the Champions League each year thereafter – which is remarkable when you consider how poor our record was up to that point. And in 2000/1 we qualified for the second group stage for the first time. going on to the quarters before going out.
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