Football: Graham asks for a game of patience: Arsenal cautious

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The Independent Online
JUST for a moment yesterday George Graham had his listeners' minds in overdrive. 'We will stress the two Ps,' he said as he pondered tonight's European Cup-Winners' Cup semi- final second leg against Paris St- Germain at Highbury. Paralysis and parsimony shot instantly to the brain.

A scoreless bore would be enough, after all, for Arsenal to progress to the final against either Parma or Benfica and if you had to put your life savings on any club to cling to what they hold with the advantage of home territory you would not wander too far from the arch penny-pinchers from Highbury. For reasons not entirely unconnected with their two dour matches against Torino, pageant and panache did not stray across too many minds.

But the Arsenal manager was on different lines. Positive and patience were the words he was emphasising. 'We can't afford to go for a 0-0 draw,' he said. 'It would be too dangerous. Some teams are better suited to playing away and maybe Paris St- Germain are one of them.

'We surprised them over there. We shocked them with our running and skill. But they know about us now and will be prepared. It will be a hard match.'

Graham yesterday watched a recording of St-Germain's last away tie, a victory over Real Madrid that meant they have won all their matches on their Cup- Winners' Cup travels this season, and drew comparisons nearer to home. 'They defend in depth and break quickly with class players,' he said. 'It's what Manchester United have being doing brilliantly in the Premier League all season. It can be hard to defend against.'

As a result he will resort to the gung-ho approach only as a last and extreme option. He did not name his team yesterday but Graham was setting out the theme of the evening: Arsenal attacking with caution. In Paris, which provided them with a 1-1 draw and their most satisfactory evening in Europe this season, the tactics worked well, apart from David Ginola's equaliser of Ian Wright's goal.

On that night Paris St-Germain, comfortable leaders of the French League, could not cope with Arsenal's aggression. By the end their neatly ironed shape had been creased and contorted and Wright, in particular, was causing their defence too many problems for them to get forward in sufficient numbers.

A victory would not have flattered Graham's team and it was with some relief that the French enter the second leg knowing a single goal - with Ginola and the Brazilian Valdo the most likely sources - will decide the tie in their favour.

Their coach, Artur Jorge, has stressed that no success will be forthcoming unless his side match English stamina but has drawn encouragement from the fact that eight Arsenal players are only a booking away from missing the final. 'It means they can't play as strongly as they normally do,' he said.

Graham was dismissive of that, reasoning that his players know the match will be lost if they ease up, and also refused to see Paris St-Germain's 3-0 defeat by Nantes last week, their first reverse since August, as a sign of encouragement.

'It's difficult to get a result there,' he said. 'People in France might have seen that we drew 1-1 at Sheffield United and think that was a surprise, whereas we know that it's always a hard game at Bramall Lane when they're fighting for survival. I'm reading nothing into it.

'We will have to impose our game on them. Sustain our pace and power.' Another twin-set of Ps, although Graham will be happy with just one tonight: the promise of Arsenal's third European final.