Football: Arsenal ask Petit to play despite pain

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The Independent Online
THE ARSENAL manager, Arsene Wenger, will ask his French compatriot Emmanuel Petit to play through pain tonight against AIK Solna - the only team Arsenal have beaten in the Champions' League this season.

Wenger feared Petit would be out for another month after limping off against Fiorentina last week still in discomfort from the damaged knee ligaments that had kept him out for 13 matches. However, a surgical injection at the weekend after a trip back to his native France to his favourite specialist has worked wonders and Wenger said: "He is all right and I think he will play in midfield with Patrick Vieira."

Successive Wembley defeats by Barcelona and Fiorentina have condemned the Gunners to a first-round exit from the Champions' League for the second consecutive season, and the game with AIK Solna will be another low-key swansong.

However, Wenger insists: "It is not a meaningless game. We want to win it to improve our ranking in Europe because every point you gain improves your chance of being seeded in future years.

"And we need a victory to lift us after last week's disappointment against Fiorentina. Even before Saturday's goalless draw at home to Newcastle in the Premiership it was like we were in a period of mourning."

Wenger has left the England centre-backs Tony Adams and Martin Keown behind together with Dennis Bergkamp, the injured Ray Parlour and Thierry Henry and the suspended Gilles Grimandi. David Seaman looks set to step down again to give the young Austrian, Alex Manninger, more European experience.

Matthew Upson will get a rare start in place of Adams, with the Ukrainian Oleh Luzhny switching to central defence in place of Keown and Lee Dixon returning at right- back. Nigel Winterburn looks set to captain the side. The youngsters Greg Lincoln, Paolo Vernazza and Tommy Black could be on the bench.

If Arsenal manage at least a draw tonight, Wenger's team will finish the Group B matches unbeaten away from Highbury. "If we can do that it will symbolise where we failed," he said, in an swipe at the Arsenal directors' decision to again play home matches at Wembley.

Celtic's Ian Wright, the all-time Arsenal record goalscorer, has agreed to play in Lee Dixon's testimonial match at Highbury against Real Madrid next Monday. Arsenal are still seeking confirmation from Madrid that Nicolas Anelka will risk the wrath of the north London fans and turn out for Real.

Arsenal (probable): Manninger, Dixon, Luzhny, Upson, Winterburn, Ljungberg, Vieira, Petit, Overmars, Suker, Kanu.

AIK Solna (probable): Asper, Kjole, Kaamark, Ljung, Gustafsson, Corneliusson, Nordin, Tjernstrom, O Andersson, Novakic, A Andersson.

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