Football: Conflict of interest for European rivals: Arsenal and Chelsea come together in the Premiership five days before their respective Cup-Winners' Cup ties

Click to follow
The Independent Online
ONE more thought for consideration by the organisers of the Premier League when they are asked to rearrange the fixture programme to assist those clubs competing in Europe: should two sides with the opportunity next week of raising the reputation of English footballers abroad have to face each other in a fierce domestic dispute five days before?

It is inevitable at some stage this afternoon at Highbury, where Arsenal play host to Chelsea, that thoughts will turn to their respective Cup-Winners' Cup ties on Thursday. Though neither would wish to risk damage to their physical well-being or to their morale a stand-off is unlikely, not with London pride at stake.

Last Saturday Arsenal used their traditional punchbags Wimbledon as a tonic before an important week. Chelsea went one better, scoring four against Leicester, and in the respect of tactical flexibility they are even more suited for European combat than today's opponents.

Should both English sides win through from the second round a head-to-head in the quarter-finals, where seedings no longer apply, is a possibility. George Graham, the Arsenal manager, hopes that meeting can be postponed until the final on 10 May. 'Glenn Hoddle has done a good job but it is fair to point out that the expectations there are not as high as those at Arsenal,' he said.

Graham has been criticised by his supporters for failing to spend any of the pounds 8m that the chairman Peter Hill-Wood says is available to strengthen his squad. 'I consider myself a brave man not to jump into the transfer market,' Graham said. 'I'm being positive by being negative if you like because it is no good buying players who are not good enough to walk straight into my team. Meanwhile, all I can do is keep winning trophies.'

Before their Uefa Cup test against Athletic Bilbao, Newcastle, the Premiership leaders, are in London for their first League game with Crystal Palace since 1979. Alan Smith's team are still searching for the consistency and goalscoring prowess that made them worthy successors to the black and whites as First Division champions last season and at the back, with one glaring exception, they have coped better with the step up. For that reason Smith has no fears about the return to town of Andy Cole, with 12 goals the League's leading marksman.

'Apart from the first game of the season when we crashed heavily to Liverpool we have only been beaten by an odd goal,' Smith said. 'Obviously Newcastle have strength in depth but defensively we believe we are as good as any side in the country.'

Manchester United, who have Barcelona awaiting them in the Champions League on Wednesday, have to pick up the Premiership scent again quickly if their season is not to come down to the cups alone. There are genuine fears among their supporters that the most prized domestic bauble has assumed secondary importance to the chase of the European dream and concentration and discipline is needed today against West Ham, who, with two successive wins, have made an unexpected climb towards half-way.

The presence of Dion Dublin at Goodison Park will remind Everton's dejected support that it was the failure to win boardroom support for his signing from Manchester United that prompted Howard Kendall to walk out 10 months ago. Of much more concern to Mike Walker as he seeks a first win since May is the threat the Coventry captain poses to a porous backline after a return of four goals in his five League appearances for his new employers.

Comments