Football: Arsenal's taste of home begins with charity

Wembley hosts the Highbury faithful for the first of many games.
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IN THE age of the pounds 40,000-a-week wage, the Football Association might be better served just passing the collection plate around the dressing- rooms of the Premiership and asking for some loose change when it comes to raising money for charity but, as ever, it is the poor bloody terrace infantry who will be dipping into their pockets to assist a variety of worthy causes at Wembley tomorrow.

Despite a growing familiarity with the ground, a relative absence of big new signings, and live television coverage, the fans of Arsenal and Manchester United will be out in numbers at the Charity Shield, with close to 70,000 expected. Patrick Kluivert may have eluded both sides for now but each side will unveil World Cup debutants, Arsenal having the added attraction of two players who actually won France 98 while United will produce the long-awaited return of Roy Keane.

The focus of attention will, however, be a player with mixed memories of France 98: David Beckham. If he plays it will be his first appearance on English soil since his dismissal in St Etienne. Even if he does not - and he has an ankle injury - the reaction of the Arsenal fans towards him will still be watched closely.

For Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, the match gives his players another chance to acquaint themselves with their new European home - Arsenal are to play their Champions' League games at Wembley - and to put one over their most dangerous rivals.

Wenger said yesterday: "The match is important as it is an honour and because it is against Manchester United. A win will give us confidence going into the season."

Nelson Vivas, the Argentine defender recently signed from Lugano, is expected to play some part, though Wenger stressed he was not intended to be an instant replacement for either Lee Dixon or Nigel Winterburn. Jesper Blomquist, from Parma, is unfit, but Manchester United's other summer signing, the pounds 10m Dutch defender Jaap Stam, will play.

For Arsenal's World Cup winners, the match comes exactly four weeks after their triumph in the Stade de France, but Emmanuel Petit said: "I'm not tired, when you are winning you keep wanting to keep on winning. It would be different if we had lost to Brazil in the final. What may be a problem is in six month's time for myself, Patrick [Viera] and the other players from the World Cup. There has not been long to recover and with the Champions' League we will be playing every three or four days."

Tomorrow's match itself is unlikely to be revealing, especially as United will have one eye on Wednesday's Champions' League second qualifying round first-leg tie against LKS Lodz - assuming the Poles escape a Fifa ban. Yet there should be an edge. This is United's fifth appearance in six years - last season they beat Chelsea on penalties - which, with pounds 1/2m raised each match, might put their fans second only to the National Lottery board in charitable largesse. But, after last year's failures, neither fans, nor players, intend to give anything else away.

n No tickets will be available at Wembley tomorrow, but Manchester United will be selling to personal callers today. Arsenal have sold their allocation.