Football: Waddle's creativity can short-circuit Gunners' power: In act one of a Wembley mini-series, Arsenal aim to pass their physical in tomorrow's Coca-Cola Cup final

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The Independent Online
TAKING each cup final as it comes, Arsenal and Sheffield Wednesday meet at Wembley in the Coca-Cola Cup tomorrow promising a match to remember.

The 'Real Thing' final has been billed as fizz v physical, the nimble feet and minds of Hillsborough's finest versus the power and will to win of Highbury's latest collection of silver-seekers.

'We have become known throughout the country and the world for our style of play,' Trevor Francis, the Wednesday manager, said, 'and we intend to produce more of the same on Sunday. If it isn't good enough then at least we will have done our best, playing the way we want.

'Arsenal are a very powerful team but they also have gifted individuals with the ability to win the game with one piece of flair.'

The odds-makers favour Arsenal slightly but the pair are too evenly matched to justify the huge sums bookies report being wagered on the Londoners. Wednesday possess more potential match-winners, in Waddle, Warhurst and Sheridan, but Arsenal are replete with players who thrive on adversity. George Graham's charges have become increasingly masterful in knockout competitions. A slow start against Millwall, who were dispatched only after penalties, was forgotten as the Gunners hit full speed in the last two rounds, against Nottingham Forest (2-0) and Crystal Palace (5-1 on aggregate).

Wednesday's ride has been smoother and more confident, their eight-match, 24-goal journey including impressive wins over Leicester (7-1), Queen's Park Rangers and Blackburn. Ten players have scored in their Coca- Cola run but the focus will be on one who has not: Waddle. 'In the first half against Sheffield United (in the FA Cup semi-final), Waddle was Roy of the Rovers,' Graham said.

Waddle's startling strike then and prodigious creativity encouraged calls for an international recall. Graham Taylor said no, and will not be at Wembley to see how the 32-year-old playmaker responds to the spurning - the England manager has flown to Italy to check on David Platt. Waddle will doubtless give Nigel Winterburn, Taylor's latest left-back selection, a busy evening.

The Geordie's evaluation of the opposition is as accurate as one of his crossfield passes. 'They are very dangerous up front and very good at the back, but maybe they lack a bit of experience in midfield,' he said.

While Waddle and Sheridan supply passes for Warhurst and Bright to exploit, Arsenal will look to release their front foragers, Kevin Campbell and Ian Wright, with longer balls propelled from the back. The joker in Graham's pack, though, is Paul Merson, the one Arsenal individual capable of punishing Wednesday by bringing the ball forward.

A replay would be unwelcome. The only date is Tuesday 18 May, three days after the pair meet in the FA Cup final. The re-match for that is on 20 May, prompting a Football League official to say: 'The players should be on first-name terms by then.' The surnames will be easy - each shirt will bear the wearer's name.

In the Premier League, Manchester United today play host to one of their bogey teams, Chelsea. A United win would give them a four-point lead over Aston Villa, who meet Manchester City tomorrow.

----------------------------------------------------------------- TITLE RACE FORM GUIDE ----------------------------------------------------------------- MANCHESTER UNITED'S LAST 10 GAMES Date Res Opponents Score 12 Apr W Coventry City 1-0 10 Apr W SHEFF WED 2-1 5 Apr W Norwich City 3-1 24 Mar D ARSENAL 0-0 20 Mar D Manchester City 1-1 14 Mar D ASTON VILLA 1-1 9 Mar L Oldham Athletic 0-1 6 Mar W Liverpool 2-1 27 Feb W MIDDLESBROUGH 3-0 20 Feb W SOUTHAMPTON 2-1 ASTON VILLA'S LAST 10 GAMES 12 Apr W Arsenal 1-0 10 Apr D COVENTRY CITY 0-0 4 Apr W Nottingham Fst 1-0 24 Mar L Norwich City 0-1 20 Mar W SHEFF WED 2-0 14 Mar D Manchester Ud 1-1 10 Mar D TOTTENHAM 0-0 27 Feb W WIMBLEDON 1-0 20 Feb W EVERTON 2-1 13 Feb W Chelsea 1-0 ----------------------------------------------------------------- Home games in capitals -----------------------------------------------------------------

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