Football: Parlour's injury a setback for Wenger

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AMID THE fall-out - and fall-over - of Saturday's game against Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough, the late substitution of Arsenal's Ray Parlour by Fredrik Ljungberg went understandably unnoticed. It may turn out, however, to have more serious consequences than incidents involving Martin Keown, who was sent off with Paolo Di Canio, or Patrick Vieira, who has been accused of pushing a policeman after the match.

According to the Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger, Keown should receive a sympathetic hearing when the club appeal against his dismissal, and Vieira has nothing to answer for. But the ankle injury suffered by Parlour gives him only a 30 per cent chance, in the manager's assessment, of being fit to play in tonight's European Champions League game against Panathinaikos at Arsenal's adopted Wembley home.

The midfielder was considered by many to have been his team's outstanding player in their opening match in Lens, which they dominated for long periods before conceding a last-minute equaliser. Ljungberg, only recently acquired is ineligible so the talented, but less experienced, Stephen Hughes can expect to start.

Wenger spent much of yesterday's news conference defending Arsenal's disciplinary record in the two years since he took over, during which time they have received 15 red cards and too many yellow ones for even the most dedicated anorak to count. "I don't think we are a bad team," he said. "So where are we wrong? I don't really know." Of Keown's dismissal on Saturday he said: "He didn't deserve to be sent off. He tried to calm things down and even when he was kicked, he didn't react."

Wenger also claimed to have been right behind Vieira in the tunnel after the game when, he says: "Nothing happened. Sometimes Patrick over-reacts when he's a little bit upset. But he doesn't get the protection he deserves. Some players go into the game to try and upset him."

If Panathinaikos have done their homework, they will appreciate how important to Arsenal is Vieira's midfield combination with his countryman Emmanuel Petit and they will also know that a little niggling in that area could pay off. Vieira is the one Arsenal player on a yellow card going into tonight's game, having committed an unnecessary foul that led to Lens' late goal.

The Arsenal dressing-room was a disappointed one after that game as the realisation sank in that two invaluable points had been frittered away in a group from which only one side is certain to qualify. Their mood improved a little when news arrived that Panathinaikos had come from behind to beat Dynamo Kiev, whom Wenger regards as favourites to win the group.

"In this competition even more perhaps than in the Premier League, the game is never over," Wenger said. "We were guilty of being a little over- confident. It was a shock. To have a chance of qualifying from the group we have to win our home games."

A crowd of up to 75,000 - 10,000 of them Greek - is expected at Wembley, where talk of the "wide open spaces" may prove illusory: the pitch is only two yards wider than Highbury and narrower than that of several Premier League clubs.

David Seaman is fit to resume in goal but will not have to face the Greek team's captain and record goal-scorer Krzysztof Warzycha, an old adversary from Poland-England games, who is injured.

Other familiar names are Norway's Erik Mykland, the little midfielder who helped dump Graham Taylor's side out of the 1994 World Cup; Croatia's Aljosa Asanovic, formerly of Derby County, and Warzycha's replacement Frank Strandli, who played 14 games for Leeds in 1993.

Runners-up to Olympiakos in the Greek League last season, Panathinaikos have an impressive European pedigree, dating back to the 1971 European Cup final at Wembley against Ajax. They lost to Liverpool in the 1985 semi-final.

Unlike Paul Alcock, they will be no pushover.