Football: Wenger alert to Sweden's own one-goal wonders

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The Independent Online
IF EVERY footballer's ambition is to play at Wembley, some Arsenal players had a strange way of showing it in last season's Champions' League. The suspicion was that it meant rather more to Lens and Dynamo Kiev; dropping five points against them meant that Arsenal finished no higher than third in their group. An improvement is required this time, starting tonight against AIK Solna.

Arsene Wenger, though acknowledging the problem, insists that it is all in the mind rather than on the pitch. "It's not down to Wembley, it's down to the quality of the game," Arsenal's manager said yesterday.

Wenger believes that the Swedes should not be dismissed as the rank outsiders of Group B. After beating (confusingly) AEK to qualify for a first Champions' League campaign, AIK were leading Barcelona 1-0 until the 86th minute of their opening match before conceding two late goals. The club's success last season was built upon an extraordinary run of narrow victories in the best tradition of "1-0 to the Arsenal", scoring fewer goals (25 in 26 games) than any team in the league, yet finishing as champions, which must be some sort of record.

This season they have been a little more fluent, managing 33 goals from 21 matches to lead the table again with five games to play. The goalkeeper, Mattias Asper, recently set a new Swedish record with 12 successive clean sheets, the sort of form that has understandably allowed few opportunities to his deputy - Lee Baxter, the 23-year-old son of the manager, Stuart Baxter.

Pontus Kamark, signed from Leicester in the summer, is expected to play in the centre of defence with another, less successful, former Premiership man in attack. Andreas Andersson has not scored since joining AIK for a fee of pounds 2m from Newcastle, where his record was not much better than it had been with AC Milan. Of the title-winning team, the influential Johann Mjallby left for Celtic and the old Arsenal favourite Anders Limpar is no longer at the club.

Limpar, like the manager Baxter, became a victim of the club's hardcore hooligan element, when his restaurant was threatened with arson. There was serious crowd trouble at the home games against AEK and Barcelona, which does not bode well for Arsenal's visit in the final group match on 2 November.

It would probably be unrealistic to think that Arsenal will have put enough points on the board by then to make that game academic. Nwankwo Kanu's missed penalty away to Fiorentina meant that an excellent performance was rewarded with no more than one point, allowing Barcelona a head start before their home games with the Italians tonight and Arsenal next Wednesday.

Kanu is again likely to be a substitute - and will not take any more penalties - with Davor Suker returning after missing the 1-0 victory at Southampton on Saturday to partner Dennis Bergkamp.

Lee Dixon is available after finishing a European suspension, though Ray Parlour still has one match to serve. Sweden's Fredrik Ljungberg will therefore play against his compatriots on the right of midfield unless Wenger decides to attack even more positively by using Saturday's match- winner, Thierry Henry.

An early goal would be useful to open up defensively minded opponents. If there is one, any supporters among the anticipated crowd of 73,000 who have left their journey to Wembley late will have every chance of missing it; the police have already announced that the kick-off will not be delayed, however many latecomers there are.

Arsenal (probable): Manninger; Dixon, Keown, Adams, Winterburn; Ljungberg, Vieira, Grimandi, Overmars; Bergkamp, Suker.

AIK Solna (probable): Asper; Kjolo, Brundin, Kamark, Gustafsson; Lagerlof, Nordin, O. Andersson, Tjernstrom; A Andersson, Novakovic.

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