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Arsenal success built on traditionally solid foundations

Written by: Staff
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LONDON, Apr 6 (Reuters) In the finest Highbury tradition, Arsenal's progress to the semi-finals of the Champions League has been built first and foremost on a formidable defence.

Thierry Henry scores the goals and has shared most of the recent headlines with Cesc Fabregas and Jose Antonio Reyes. As the captain, striker and inspiration he has found to his cost in countless previous failed European assaults, however, that progress demands goals are not conceded, especially at home.

It is no coincidence that Arsenal have made it to the last four for the first time on the back of a competition-record eight successive clean sheets.

The latest was yesterday's goalless draw at Juventus that sent them through 2-0 on aggregate. It was a superb defensive display that, as against Real Madrid in the previous round, eventually reduced some of Europe's greatest attacking talents to hoisting aimless long balls into the box.

The last side to score against Arsenal were Ajax Amsterdam in September. Since then, Sparta Prague (twice), Thun, Ajax, Real Madrid (twice) and Juventus (twice) have all been found wanting.

It is something Arsenal fans have come to appreciate over the years. Arsenal's success under George Graham in the late 1980s and early 90s was based without apology on an unyielding back four when ''1-0 to the Arsenal'' became the fans' anthem.

Full backs Nigel Winterburn and Lee Dixon, Tony Adams and a series of centre-back partners including David O'Leary, Steve Bould and Martin Keown became an impregnable force.

How the old guard must have enjoyed the sight of Juventus players continually being flagged offside yesterday with Arsenal's latest yellow-clad foursome united in their arms-aloft appeals.

CROCKED DEFENDERS It is remarkable that the new faces should have developed into such a settled unit in a season when the Highbury treatment room has been overflowing with crocked defenders.

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