All Guns Blazing: Arsenal’s return to the Champions League should be treated with caution

Thierry Henry of Arsenal terrorises the Lens defence and narrowly misses with this shot. Picture: PA

Thierry Henry of Arsenal terrorises the Lens defence and narrowly misses with this shot. Picture: PA/Nick Potts - Credit: EMPICS Sports Photo Agency

In our weekly Arsenal fan column, Layth Yousif says past memories of the competition fail to fill him with much hope.

Our match against Dinamo Zagreb takes place 17 years to the day since our first game in the competition known as the Champions League, against Racing Club de Lens.

My friends and I who made the memorable trip to northern France still laugh about the antics we got up to on that trip.

But what I also recall was a sense of wonder. Of entering the promised land of a competition we had never won but stood a great chance of winning with the team we possessed.

Look at the starting line-up that night, you can see why: Seaman, Dixon, Keown, Adams, Winterburn, Vieira and Petit, with Parlour and Overmars out wide, supplementing Bergkamp and Anelka up front.

No wonder the 3,000 travelling fans were in such high spirits as we edged through that appalling concrete tunnel to get to the away end at the Stade Bollaert.

We felt it was our time to show what we could do against the giants of European football – even if Lens were anything but. However, a match report I found summed the night up perfectly: ‘Arsenal concede a late equaliser despite dominating possession.’

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The following month an injury-time equaliser by a certain Sergei Rebrov for Dynamo Kiev at Wembley cost us dearly.

In order to boost attendance figures, we had permission to host home Champions League matches at Wembley. So by the time 9,000 Lens fans invaded in November 1998 to beat us 1-0 – the biggest ever Arsenal attendance for a ‘home’ game, 73,707 – we were out.

The dismal pattern continued the following year with a damaging loss to Fiorentina at Wembley, albeit via a stunning strike from Gabriel Batistuta.

If I were to add Valencia, 2000/01; Deportivo La Coruna, 2001/02; Ajax, 2002/03; Chelsea, 2003/04; Bayern Munich, 2004/05; PSV, 2006/07; and Liverpool, 2007/08 – before a succession of tepid second round knockouts – what would it mean to you?

Performances which were not quite good enough against teams we should have beaten – and the absolute deflation as an Arsenal fan in knowing that fact?

So, even if I am already checking flight times for Munich, you’ll forgive me if I don’t get too excited just yet. I’ve been let down too many times in the past and nothing I’ve seen with our current squad will change my mind. Even though I can still recall that glorious anticipation at Lens as if it were yesterday.

Follow me @laythy29