Football: Petit keen to delay surgery despite pain

CHAMPIONS' LEAGUE Manchester United captain relishing bigger challenges while Arsenal end disappointing campaign in style
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The Independent Online
FEAR OF THE surgeon's knife will keep Emmanuel Petit playing on for the rest of his career with the aid of pain-killing injections the Arsenal midfielder said yesterday.

Petit, a World Cup winner with France last year, admits that doctors have told him that he needs surgery to fully repair a damaged cruciate knee ligament which has already kept him out for nine weeks this season. But with three comeback matches completed, Petit, a strident campaigner against the increased workload modern players face, will play against Tottenham in the derby at White Hart Lane on Sunday - and for the rest of the season.

The 29-year-old looked to be back to his best for Arsenal in their 3- 2 Champions' League win over AIK Solna in Stockholm on Tuesday following two less than impressive matches against Chelsea and Fiorentina last week.

Last weekend he missed Arsenal's goalless draw with Newcastle to fly back to France for specialist treatment to the knee including a surgical- injection similar to the technique which repaired the Tony Adams' back problems last season. Petit said: "I don't want an operation. I want to stay on the pitch and I believe I can go on for the rest of my career with pain-killing injections.

"Doctors have said an operation is the only real solution but lots of players I know go on and on despite strains in their knees.

"It was a awful pitch in Stockholm and sometimes it still hurts when I kick the ball, but then the pain can go away. I know it will probably come back from time to time but I feel I have to carry on. That's what I want and I think I can live with some pain now and then. It was important to prove that to myself.

"You never know what can happen with an operation. It can take a long time to recover and I just want to keep playing because we still have so much to achieve at Arsenal."

The Gunners' victory in Sweden, secured by two goals from Marc Overmars and another by Davor Suker, provided a winning finish to their Champions' League campaign, but too late to earn a place in the next round after their failures at Wembley against Barcelona and Fiorentina.

They now go into the third-round draw for the Uefa Cup tomorrow - playing home ties back at Highbury - along with Juventus, Borussia Dortmund and Ajax although, under the rules of the competition, they cannot meet another English side or any other Champions' League drop-outs until the quarter- finals.

But the Tottenham match on Sunday is the immediate priority. Petit, who turned down Spurs to join Arsene Wenger, his former Monaco coach, at Arsenal two years ago, said: "It is very important, a passion game which is just what we need now to lift us. It is a huge blow to all the players that we have gone out of the Champions' League so early again but the Premiership title is still a big prize for us."

Wenger will have Adams, Martin Keown, Dennis Bergkamp and David Seaman back after resting them on Tuesday night and is delighted with the re- emergence of Overmars as a powerful force. "It was great to see him scoring goals again and looking so much like his old self physically. He has had a lot of fitness problems for some time but he's looking a different player again now," Wenger said.

The Nigerian striker, Nwankwo Kanu, who set up two Arsenal goals in Stockholm, has confirmed he is happy to play on under his current contractual terms despite speculation that he has demanded a new pounds 40,000-a-week contract which would break the Arsenal wage structure.

Kanu, who underwent heart-valve surgery during his Internazionale days, said: "The club is trying to fix a new agreement for me but there is no hurry as far as I'm concerned. It was a risk for Arsenal and myself when I came here but I'm delighted how it has gone and I have no problems. I love Arsenal and the way the fans have reacted to me."