Football: Arsenal's next generation gun for permanent places

There is good news on the horizon for the English Double-winners as they go about reshaping their season. By Kieran Daley
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TONY ADAMS, who aggravated a back injury in a Champions' League game last month, has had surgery and faces a long lay-off. The England international defender, currently resting in Florida, said in a prepared acceptance speech for a television award that the operation had already been carried out.

"I've had a busy week," he said. "My father's had a heart attack; I've been looking after him and my three children, plus I've had an operation on my back, which has gone very, very well." Arsenal can ill afford to lose Adams, with injuries to Emmanuel Petit, Marc Overmars and Dennis Bergkamp.

The Arsenal understudies who renewed hope for the club's future on Wednesday night with their stirring victory over Panathinaikos will step back into the shadows for a while as Arsene Wenger refocuses on defending the Premiership title.

Arsenal travel to Aston Villa to face the League leaders on Sunday and the manager should have confirmation today that the Gunners' injury crisis is finally over - and it is time again for his senior players to deliver. Only Adams and Petit are now ruled out of the Villa match.

Petit's pulled abdominal muscle will keep him out for a further week but Stephen Hughes, the Frenchman's midfield deputy, who sustained a similar injury in the Champions' League match against Lens at Wembley, is fit again.

However, after Arsenal's young stand-ins recorded a memorable victory in Greece, Wenger will now challenge his established players to produce the kind of form that secured Arsenal's honours last season.Chelsea's win against Villa on Wednesday night pushed Arsenal down to fifth place in the Premiership and the Gunners, who have not won in the League since the 1-0 success against Everton on 8 November, now need points before starting their FA Cup defence in the New Year.

Wenger, who signed a new four-year Highbury contract this week, will stick to his policy of refusing to pay exorbitant prices and wages for players. He admits he still needs another experienced striker, but the critics who accused him of having too little quality back-up among his reserves were silenced by the triumph in Athens.

He said: "We have shown we have young players who are better than many people thought. The nucleus of the next generation is there."

Arsenal's youngsters will never forget their night in Europe, especially teenagers David Grondin, the French Under-18 international left-back signed from St Etienne for pounds 500,000 in the summer, and Paolo Vernazza, the north London-born son of an Italian father whose performance in only his third senior appearance was described by veteran Steve Bould as "tremendous".

Bould added: "He is one of the best I've seen in the youth ranks here. He is quality and is going to be a great player."

The acting captain admitted to the mistake which gave Panathinaikos short- lived equality when the substitute Igor Sypniewski scored in Athens, but will continue to deputise for the recovering Adams at Villa Park with the aid of pain-killers for a badly bruised toe.

Arsenal have announced that their 18-year link with the Japanese electronics manufacturer JVC will end at the completion of the season.