Arsenal must produce vintage display

FOOTBALL: Challenging European Cup-Winners' Cup task faces holders. Glenn Moore reports from Auxerre
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Arsenal touched down in postcard France yesterday. The small medieval town of Auxerre, nestling in the heart of the Burgundy wine country - lanes lined with poplars, gothic churches and shuttered farmhouses - seems a world away from the fog of corruption and violence that has enveloped the English game.

The perfect place, then, for Arsenal to follow Chelsea and restore some faith in the game by moving into the last four of the European Cup-Winners' Cup. But appearances can be deceptive. As this week's trial of Bernard Tapie demonstrates, French football has already been ensnared by corruption.

Auxerre, however, does offer an honest setting. The club may have grown from weekend amateur to European competitor in barely 20 years but it has retained its essential decency.

Limited resouces mean the club is dependent on a youth system created by its coach of 34 years, Guy Roux. One of the reasons for the club's success (graduates include Eric Cantona and Basile Boli) is that every parent is promised that, however poorly their offspring starts his career, he will be given to the age of 20 to make it. This is not a club that breaks the hearts and dreams of its recruits, not until they are capable of handling it.

The quality such a policy attracts was evident at Highbury two weeks ago as Arsenal struggled to a goalless draw in the first leg of this quarter- final tie. The return leg is tonight and, if Arsenal are to prolong their chances of becoming the first club to retain the Cup-Winners' Cup, they must score at least once.

They arrive in turmoil, with Stewart Houston's place as manager still uncertain and speculation surrounding striker Ian Wright, dropped last week and linked with a move to Celtic.

"We have to be positive," Houston said yesterday, "but also keep an eye on the back door. Ian is in the squad, he is a goalscorer with an excellent record."

Houston was more forthcoming about his own position. He has been made caretaker manager until the end of the season following the abrupt departure of George Graham.

"I do not feel confident about getting the job," he confided. "If we win the trophy it might help but there are no guarantees. I cannot even say if I will be at the club next year. If a new man comes in he may want to bring in his own men.

"It is not as if I applied for the job, I inherited it. Arsenal have given me an opportunity and I will do my best."

Houston's main concern is goalkeeper David Seaman, who will play despite a rib injury that will need several pain-killing injections. His determination to play is not in doubt. For last year's final, against Parma, he had six jabs, four of them at half-time. "He is the England goalkeeper, he can handle it," Houston said. Seaman, who has not trained but was in good humour, agreed.

The French have their own goalkeeping problem, with Fabian Cool, the third-choice, expected to play. Philippe Violeau, a midfielder, is injured and Taribo West, a defender, suspended.

Auxerre, organised and technically classy, looked much the better side at Highbury, but Arsenal showed in Europe last year that they are capable of beating better teams. With the town of Chablis a few miles away this is the ideal location for a celebration, but first Arsenal will have to produce a vintage performance of their own.