One-nil to the Arsenal: Remembering Arsenal’s 1994 European Cup Winners’ Cup triumph

Remarkably, you'd have to go back 23 years to recall Arsenal's last European triumph, their 1994 European Cup Winners' Cup success in Copenhagen

One-nil to the Arsenal: Remembering Arsenal’s 1994 European Cup Winners’ Cup triumph
The Arsenal team celebrate their 1994 European Cup Winners' Cup success. (Photo: / Getty Images)

For a club with such a vast array of domestic trophies, it’s almost surprising how few continental triumphs Arsenal have managed in their history.

Although they've made the 2006 UEFA Champions League final and 2000 UEFA Cup final since you would have to go back 23 years to find the last time the Gunners won a European competition - the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1994.

The now defunct competition was once the secondary club tournament for UEFA, playing second fiddle to the European Cup and Champions League, hosting all the domestic cup winners around the continent and in the days before more than just domestic league champions made it into the Champions League, winning the Cup Winners’ Cup was a very prestigious honour.

Arsenal hoped to be the latest in a long line of English Cup Winners' Cup champions

English teams had gained a lot of success in the tournament, with London rivals Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United winning the early editions of the tournament in the 1960s, whilst Manchester City, Chelsea and Scottish giants Rangers won the first three of the 1970s and Everton and Manchester United continued the tradition in 1985 and 1991 respectively.

The Gunners had made the final once before in 1980 but having played over 60 games in the 1979/80 season, including the FA Cup final just days before, ended up losing to Valencia on penalties.

It was their last campaign in the European Cup Winners’ Cup until the 1993/94 season as English clubs were expelled from European competition in 1985 until 1991 due to the hooliganism problem that dogged the country, meaning Arsenal missed the 1987/88 Cup Winners’ Cup campaign after beating Liverpool in the 1987 League Cup final.

Following on from the unprecedented triumph in 1993 of becoming the first English club to win both the FA Cup & League Cup in the same season, George Graham’s team started in the first round of the CWC against Odense BK from Denmark where goals from Ian Wright and Paul Merson would be enough to overcome an early own goal by Martin Keown for a 2-1 first leg victory in the away leg.

Kevin Campbell opened the scoring back at Highbury before an equaliser by future Spurs midfielder Allan Neilsen made it a nervy final minutes but the Gunners clung on.

Although the campaign is most renowned for the advent of the “One-nil to the Arsenal” chant adapted from the Pet Shop Boys’ 1993 cover of the Village People’s ‘Go West’ which reached #2 in the UK charts, in the second round, the Gunners went goal crazy.

Wright and Merson’s goals put Arsenal in a commanding lead from the first leg with a 3-0 win at Highbury against Standard Liege, in the return leg in Belgium, they couldn't stop scoring as Arsenal put seven passed the hapless Liege - in what remains a club record victory in a European competition (only equalled by a 7-0 win against Slavia Prague in a UEFA Champions League group game in 2007).

Two rounds away from the final, Arsenal were left with some the giants of European football potentially in their way with holders Parma, Benfica (who had humiliated Arsenal in the second round of the European Cup in 1991), Real Madrid, Bayer Leverkusen, Ajax and PSG all left in the draw.

It would be a trip to Turin that awaited Arsenal, as they battled Italian cup holders Torino and at the scene of one of their finest European away trips of yesteryear the 1980 Cup Winners’ Cup semi-final with Juventus in 1980, the team showed it’s defensive qualities, gaining a valuable 0-0 draw.

Back at home, Arsenal again kept their defensive nous and a captain Tony Adams header was enough to settle a tricky quarter-final tie and leave them two games away from a Copenhagen final.

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Gunners faced Italian giants Parma in the final

In the final four, they faced PSG, who boasted the likes of future Newcastle United and Spurs starlet David Ginola, the midfielder scored the last of only three goals the Gunners conceded in the entire tournament, a fiftieth minute equaliser to cancel out Ian Wright’s opener as Arsenal left Paris with a 1-1 draw and a valuable away goal.

Campbell took away some of the nerves with an early goal ay Highbury two weeks later but the 2-1 aggregate victory would feel bittersweet for the Gunners as top scorer Wright’s second booking of the tournament meant he would miss the final with holders and favourites Parma.

With no Wright or Keown (injured), the Gunners came up against one of the best attacking sides of a generation, with Nevio Scala’s Parma boasting future Premier League imports Tomas Brolin, Faustino Asprilla and Gianfranco Zola in his starting eleven.

For many Arsenal fans, this final is seen as one of the club's finest games and a masterclass in how to defend a lead in a big game from the famous back-line of Lee Dixon, Nigel Winterburn, Tony Adams and Steve Bould as well as goalkeeper David Seaman.

Unfancied striker Alan Smith, who’d spent most of the recent seasons as second fiddle to Wright, since Wright’s move from Crystal Palace volleyed in the game’s only goal in the twentieth minute and from there Arsenal just managed to keep the Crusaders at bay.

Despite being underdogs in the eyes of many, Arsenal left Copenhagen with their first European trophy since 1970 and Parma succumbed to the Cup Winners’ Cup winners curse of losing the final the year after winning the trophy - the sixth side to do so.

A year later, Arsenal joined the unfavourable list, having beaten Omonia, Brondby, Auxerre and Sampdoria to reach the 1995 final under difficult circumstances with manager George Graham sacked mid-season, they were beaten 2-1 in extra time by Real Zaragoza and the audacious volley from the half-way line by former Spurs midfielder Nayim.

It would be the Gunners final game in the competition before it was absorbed by the UEFA Cup (now UEFA Europa League) in 1999.