Simon Hart
Simon Hart

Arsenal drought coming to an end

Saturday 7 December 2013, 9.00CET
After a great start both domestically and in Europe former Arsenal FC duo Alan Smith and Kevin Campbell believe silverware could be round the corner, writes Simon Hart.
Published: Saturday 7 December 2013, 9.00CET

Arsenal drought coming to an end

After a great start both domestically and in Europe former Arsenal FC duo Alan Smith and Kevin Campbell believe silverware could be round the corner, writes Simon Hart.

They lead the Premier League and sit top of their UEFA Champions League group yet accompanying Arsenal FC's impressive start to this campaign has been one nagging question: after eight seasons without a trophy, can they actually keep it going this time and pick up silverware?

It is a question that seemed worth putting to two men who know just what it takes to win a trophy with the north London club – Alan Smith and Kevin Campbell. Colleagues in the league and FA Cup-winning Arsenal sides in the early 90s, they were also in the Gunners team that lifted the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup 20 years ago next May, when Smith scored the only goal of the final against Parma FC.

According to Smith, now a journalist and broadcaster, Arsène Wenger's current side are "as good as anything you see" on their day but they must now prove they have the same winning mentality as the Arsenal of his era. "You look at the team today, when it all clicks with [Mesut] Özil, [Aaron] Ramsey, [Santi] Cazorla, they are world-class and it's just brilliant to watch. In terms of talent they would beat the side that played in the Cup Winners' Cup final, but we had a winning mentality back then and that's something that the Arsenal boys of today have got to acquire."

©Getty Images

Özil has proved a valuable capture

Yet he believes they are getting there. For Smith, a new sense of optimism was born the moment Özil arrived at the club. "The signing of Özil lifted everybody. It lifted the crowd who were getting on Arsène Wenger's back, and it lifted expectations. No matter what he has done on the pitch – and I think there is much more to come from him – he changed the perception of the club and that's been important."

Campbell concurs and suggests that "everything's just come together all at once", with Özil's arrival coinciding with the return to form and fitness of Aaron Ramsey – arguably English football's player of the season so far – and Jack Wilshere. Defensively, he adds, they also look stronger. "Per Mertesacker is a bit more experienced now and the back four a lot more solid. The goalkeeper [Wojciech Szczęsny] has settled himself down a bit."

The return of Mathieu Flamini has helped too. "They've always been good going forward – it's always been in transition, when they lose the ball, that it's been difficult but Flamini prides himself on being that defensive shield," adds Campbell whose only concern is the lack of a back-up for Oliver Giroud in attack.

©Getty Images

Wenger conducts the troops

The fact that Arsenal are top of a tough-looking Group F, three points ahead of Borussia Dortmund and SSC Napoli (where they only need to avoid a three-goal defeat to progress), suggests they are well placed for a serious challenge in Europe as well as the Premier League, and there is cautious optimism from Smith about their prospects. "I wouldn't put them down as favourites," he says, "but Arsène Wenger has got great experience in this competition and he has also got an experienced team – it is no longer the young team we talk about, so they should be hopeful."

Campbell, meanwhile, points to the matchday four victory at Dortmund, last season's runners-up, as reason to believe. "They went to Dortmund and won and Dortmund made the final last year. Why not? A lot of it is belief and hitting form at the right time, I don't think Arsenal have hit their top form yet either."

Arsenal were certainly underdogs when they defeated a Parma side packed with star names in Copenhagen, as Campbell recalls: "It was backs-to-the-wall stuff. We took the lead against the run of play and we held on. We were a bit patched-up, but we dug in and got the right result because everyone worked so hard. It was a fantastic achievement." The hope, for Campbell and Smith, is that another lies just around the corner.

The opinions expressed here are the writer's own and not those of UEFA.


Last updated: 09/12/13 9.59CET