If you’re superstitious then you might believe there are worse countries to have switched our first leg with Benfica to, than Italy.
In official European competition Arsenal have had 18 fixtures in Italy, winning 9 times (twice on penalties), drawing 5 and losing 4.
Some of our best ever nights abroad have come from Italy, and in our two visits we have made to the nation in the Europa League we won both times without conceding.
So to get us in the mood for Thursday, and if you’re looking for a positive omen, here are our top 10 best Italian Jobs
10- April 2019 – Europa League Quarter Final – Napoli 0-1 Arsenal (We won 3-0 on aggregate)
Our most recent Italian Job!
Defending a 2-0 lead from the first leg, Lacazette caught the opposition by surprise with a long-distance free kick and everyone was pleasantly content by how simple it was to knock out one of the favourites to win the competition.
Then Baku happened!
9- March 2018- Europa League Round of 16 – AC Milan 0-2 Arsenal (Won 5-1 on aggregate)
In what echoes our current situation, the Europa League has become or all nothing.
We realised in Arsene Wenger’s final season we were not going to finish in the top 4 so had to win the Europa League to qualify for the Champions League. 4 Days before our trip to the San Siro pressure increased with a defeat at Brighton, our third consecutive League loss. So with confidence low and barely any form to speak of, many were shocked how comfortable this win was
8- August 2011- Champions League Qualifier – Udinese -1-2 (We won 3-1 on aggregate)
In the same summer we sold Fabregas and Nasri we were given the toughest draw possible to qualify for the Champions Group stages, a side who had finished 4th in Serie A.
To give you an idea of how disorganised we were, this was 4 days after a miserable defeat by Liverpool at home and 4 days before our 8-2 humiliation at Old Trafford.
With Udinese 1-0 up at half time (scores level on aggregate) it was relief more than joy that we found a way to get over the line
7- March 2011 -Champions League Round Of 16-Roma – 1-0 (1-1 on aggregate – Arsenal won on penalties)
For the record, any games on this list which we lose but win on pens I’m counting as a win. Let’s be honest there is nothing better than seeing your team not play well but win on penalties (it’s happened enough to us over the years).
We dominated the first leg, Roma the second. They scored inside 10 mins and we were left clinging on for another 110 mins. Some of our youngsters showed great mental strength in a shoot-out that went on forever!
6- November 2002- Champions League 2nd Group Stage – Roma 1-3 Arsenal
At a time when you could start to argue he had become the best striker in the world Thierry produced at that point his best ever Champions League performance with a hat trick in Rome.
His first was a vintage Henry goal, cutting in from the left and bending the ball in. His third was proof that he was learning a new skill, free kick taking. He would score in identical fashion the very next weekend.
5- March 2008- Champions League Round of 16 – Ac Milan 0-2 Arsenal
Seen by many as a coming-of-age moment for this very young Arsenal team. After a stalemate at the Emirates, Cesc Fabregas was overcome with emotion when his long-range strike gave us the lead in the San Siro.
When fans today talk about how good our young talent is, take a look at this side.
Ultimately it was too young a squad. In the crucial moment of games and seasons it needed some more experience to help.
4- April 1980 – Cup Winners Cup Semi Final – Juventus 0-1 Arsenal (We won 2-1 on aggregate)
Imagine if Arsenal were 2 minutes away from being knocked out by a quality Juventus side in a semi-final and what a moment it would be if we snatched a winner. Well that’s what we did in 1980, a classic 1-0 to the Arsenal before that even was a thing.
Our first ever win on Italian soil would be more celebrated if it wasn’t for our failure to win the Final which was in the same week as losing at Wembley to West Ham.
Imagine those few days. What could have been one of the best weeks in our history turned out to one of our most depressing.
I am glad I wasn’t alive in 1980!
3- April 1995- Cup Winners Cup Semi Final Sampdoria 3-2 Arsenal
(5-5 on aggregate – Arsenal win on pens)
A lot has been mentioned over the years of Arsenal’s lack of mentality. It’s hard to see this group being able to do what their peers did in 1995.
In an intimidating atmosphere it seemed numerous times the tie was dead, but we kept finding a way to hang in there against the odds.
With 6 mins to go we thought we were going through when Bellucci scored twice to spark wild celebrations. Then out of nowhere in the 89th minute we scored from a free kick to force extra time.
At penalties we surrendered a 2-goal advantage only for David Seaman to make a match winning save. He wouldn’t be our hero in the final though would he?
2 April 2006- Champions League Quarter Final – Juventus 0-0 Arsenal (We Won 2-0 on aggregate)
So why I include a draw in this list? This of course was a result that meant we advanced to the semi-final of the Champions League for the first time ever!
Many thought it wasn’t in the Gunners DNA to have the game management to defend our advantage from the first leg.
In many ways we gave Juventus a taste of their own medicine by being hard to break down and never really looking like conceding. It’s more impressive when you consider who was in our back 4 that night, Eboue replaced an Injured Lauren, Senderos was filling in for Sol Campbell and Flamini was asked to be a makeshift left back!
1 November 2003 – Champions’ League Group Stage –Inter Milan 1-5 Arsenal (Watch video at this link)
Arguably our best ever European performance away from home and the greatest individual display any Gunner has produced in the Champions League.
This was the season where Thierry Henry was at the peaks of his powers The Frenchmen was involved in the first 4 of our 5 goals at the San Siro against a legendary Inter defence.
When you use context it’s an even more incredible result. We had failed to win our first three games in the group stage. So not just was this an amazing scoreline, it happened when we were under immense pressure.
So we have happy memories in Italy. Can we produce another Italian Job on Thursday?
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