Football: Bergkamp has Wembley in his sights

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The Independent Online
DENNIS BERGKAMP will wake up in Arsenal's London hotel tomorrow morning, carefully get out of bed and gingerly stretch his limbs. In that moment he will know if he is to play in tomorrow's 117th FA Cup final.

The Dutch striker is more optimistic about his fitness than at any time since he damaged his hamstring against Derby 16 days ago. However, his chances of playing against Newcastle United remain in the balance.

After joining in a full training session for the first time yesterday he said: "I'm happy that I'm still in with a chance, but I'm still thinking about the injury when I train. I will push it harder tomorrow and I will know as soon as I stand up on Saturday morning whether I am fit. I want to play but I have to be 100 per cent fit."

Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, said: "I am surprised he has recovered this much but a practice match is not a cup final. We can't recreate that intensity 48 hours before the game so, if he plays, it will still be a gamble. Fortunately the injury is superficial not deep.

"I'm encouraged that he wants to play. He is thinking only of Arsenal and not of the possibility of injuring himself for the World Cup.

"I will make the decision, but I know he is not the sort of player to cheat and tell me he is fit when he is not. He will have to be comfortable with his body and he will be honest with me. He knows how important this game is for Arsenal."

Wenger then underlined the importance of Bergkamp, who made a brief appearance in west London to receive his Football Writers' Player of the Year award last night. "He is a leader on the field. He is easy to find in the game for defenders and midfielders. He gives them an option when they have the ball and that improves the confidence of the team. He is creative with his passing and can score goals. But he is like everybody. He may be a huge player but, if he is not fit, he cannot play."

Arsenal have no other injury worries, although Ian Wright is still short of match fitness and, said Wenger, "he might not last the whole game". This means Wenger is unlikely to take the risk of starting with both Wright and Bergkamp. Wright could be a substitute, but Bergkamp will either start or watch.

Newcastle appear to be injury-free, though little news was emerging from their training camp. Of the two, Arsenal's build-up appears more relaxed. Yesterday they sat in the Hertfordshire sunshine after training and took turns to meet the press. Tony Adams was expansive; Martin Keown thoughtful; Patrick Vieira a mixture of intensity and smiles; Emmanuel Petit, dressed all in white like a latter-day Jean Borotra, confident and phlegmatic.

Petit, now recovered from Don Hutchison's crude tackle 12 days ago, said he believed coming to England had cost him a place in the World Cup but it was still worth it. This surprising assertion was given weight by his evident enjoyment of the ambience and much else to do with the English game.

Petit, like Vieira and Nicolas Anelka, is in Aime Jacquet's preliminary 28-man squad, but he said: "He [Jacquet] thinks players are much better if they are playing in Italy so it will be very difficult for me, Patrick and Nicolas. He has his team, his players. I don't think he's even been here to see us, though his assistant has.

"He thinks the best players in the world are in Italy. There are so many great players there but, for me, it's not so good because it's so boring. When I'm watching it I have to reach for the remote control and turn over. I could have gone to Italy but I prefer England. The football here is like life. I can be me. It is a joy to play and never boring.

"If I don't make the World Cup I will still be France's biggest supporter but I will be on the beach, with my friends and some wine."

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