Football: Graham to play the cautious tourist in France: Arsenal to adopt safety-first strategy for today's European Cup-Winners' Cup semi-final as Parisians rely on realism not romanticism

Click to follow
The Independent Online
SPRINGTIME in Paris, and a Scotsman's fancy turns to . . . containment. Experience has taught Arsenal that clean sheets are the key to European success and their characteristic caution is not about to be thrown to the wind in tonight's first leg of their Cup-Winners' Cup semi-final against Paris-St-Germain.

The French League leaders are of much the same persuasion, and a sell-out crowd of 48,000 will need to bring patience to the Parc des Princes. A good book would be more useful than an abacus.

Having paid Torino exaggerated respect in the last round, the Arsenal manager, George Graham, is unlikely to change what was a successful game plan for an away tie against opponents he deems to be far stronger than the impecunious Italians.

Strong or not, PSG's runaway leadership of their domestic league, where they are unbeaten for 26 matches, is founded on defensive expertise rather than Gallic flair, and with Arsenal in holding mode, the smart francs are on 0-0.

Graham, whose habit is to talk up the opposition, describes France's finest as 'very strong, very experienced with a lot of talent'. To raised eyebrows all round, he added that they were 'on a par' with Parma - the Italian holders generally regarded as the best of the four semi-finalists.

Having watched PSG on Friday, he said their modus operandi was 'to flood the midfield and leave only one man up'. Needing little encouragement to withdraw into their shell, Arsenal will do likewise, and seek to suffocate the life, and goals, out of the game.

The probability is that Ian Wright will again be omitted, to his chagrin, in the belief that possession is nine- tenths of the bore. Alan Smith was the solitary striker in Turin, and his clever shepherding and economical use of the ball is likely to win him the vote again here.

The Parisians had 'steel, as well as ability', Graham said. 'They're easily the best team in France, and they're running away with the championship, having conceded only 15 goals. They are much, much stronger than Torino and remind me a bit of Newcastle in the way they swarm forward in numbers.

'If they push up and attack we'll defend and hope to hit them on the break.'

There was no question of Arsenal nominating their team until the last moment. 'We need to keep every card up our sleeve.'

Graham is right to respect opponents good enough to have seen off Real Madrid in the last round, but it would be a pity if Arsenal again took caution to the extreme. In Turin they settled for a goalless stalemate against a team they should have beaten away, as well as in the return.

PSG are a good side, but the newly dethroned English cup holders have no reason to feel inferior after losing just one of the 18 games they have played since the turn of the year. Leaving out Wright, their most potent attacker, may be a good idea, but only if the intention is to protect he of the bulldog spirit from the second booking which would disqualify him from the decisive home leg.

Artur Jorge, the French club's Portuguese coach, knows what it takes to win the big ones, having lifted the European Cup with Porto in 1987. Reliability in defence an impenetrable midfield and pace in attack are fundamentals he deploys in 4-5-1 shape, with Liberia's George Weah the lone ranger up front.

Ginola, France's footballer of the year, is the team's dominant influence, and as such can expect the man for man attentions of John Jensen or Ian Selley.

Collective efficiency rather than individual effervescence is the order of the day. Paris sans champagne.

Paris-St-German (probable; 4-5-1): Lama; Sassus, Ricardo, Kombouare, Colleter; Le Guen, Fournier, Guerrin, Ginola, Valdo; Weah.

Arsenal (probable; 4-5-1): Seaman; Dixon, Adams, Bould, Winterburn; Davis, Jensen, Selley, Merson, Campbell; Smith.