Football: Wenger believes in power of Bergkamp and Wright

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The Independent Online
Arsene Wenger insists he has no fear of embarrassment tonight at the hands of John Hartson, the in-form striker Wenger allowed to leave Arsenal for West Ham last February.

Wenger has placed his faith with his strike pairing of Dennis Bergkamp and Ian Wright, despite their recent barren run.

Arsenal are still cashing in on Hartson's success - in a deal initially struck with the Hammers at pounds 3.3m but bringing them regular additional payments tied to the Welshman's performance. Hartson's five goals helped save West Ham from relegation last season and put the first bonus in the Arsenal bank. The next is due when he reaches the 25-goal mark and he needs just two more for that quarter-century going into tonight's Coca- Cola Cup quarter-final tie at Upton Park.

Eventually the price could rise as high as pounds 5m but even that would be scant consolation to Arsenal if their renewed interest in English football's third most important prize dies at the feet of Hartson.

Wenger admitted: "I knew he would do well when I sold him but it doesn't mean I regret the decision. We could have kept him but West Ham offered him a chance and he wanted to go because most of the time he was just on the bench here behind Bergkamp and Wright.

"In football I have learned it is no use looking back. You cannot change things. We have not been scoring goals recently but I find it hard to believe that we will not score them again. Bergkamp and Wright scored 19 of our 20 goals in the early part of the season. They were a great partnership then and they will be again. And if people criticise me for letting Hartson go, whatever happens [tonight], I think it would be stupid."

Wenger, in fact, has already faced a similar situation. West Ham came to Highbury in the Premiership in September, were soundly beaten 4-0 and Hartson hardly had a kick. Since then, however, Arsenal have faltered apart from the temporary lift of November's win against Manchester United.

They have sunk to sixth in the League, and both Bergkamp and Wright have scored one goal apiece in their last nine appearances. The drought - just five Arsenal goals in seven games - reached a head with Saturday's scoreless home draw with the First Division strugglers Port Vale in the FA Cup.

Despite suggestions of disharmony in the dressing-room, Wenger insisted: "Our attitude and spirit is still all right. And I believe we can still do well in both the cups and the League this season."

Wright returns from a two-match ban, with Wenger needing to keep the goal-scoring powers of his 34-year-old record-breaker after the teenager Nicolas Anelka failed to prove an adequate replacement.

Wenger yesterday dismissed a report from Croatia that he is planning a pounds 6m bid for Zagreb's former Barcelona striker, Robert Prosinecki, and another from Turkey that he wants Fenerbahce's Nigerian defender Uche Okechukwu. "There is no chance for either of them to join Arsenal," he said while admitting: "I probably expected too much from Anelka. He is only 18 and he knows there is high expectation of him, but maybe it is still a little too soon for him.

"In many ways he is in a similar position to the one Hartson was in here, getting only one or two games at a time to make an impression.

"At a club like Arsenal you cannot keep players in the side for very long if they are not producing, but although we are looking at the transfer market every day for new players but there is always great competition for the right ones even when they do become available."

West Ham, who have won 12 of their 13 games at Upton Park this season, are sure to present another stern test of Arsenal's resolve. Emmanuel Petit, the French midfielder, has given Wenger a boost by recovering from a kick on a calf muscle sustained against Port Vale but Lee Dixon and David Platt are still out with groin injuries.

For West Ham, Steve Potts may have to fill in again for West Ham in midfield, as Steve Lomas is suspended, while John Moncur and Ian Bishop are injured. Tim Breacker is also ruled out with ankle and knee problems, but Andy Impey is ready to return after missing Saturday's FA Cup match against Emley match through injury.

Meanwhile, Iain Dowie is set to stay at the club at least for the time being after the striker rejected loan moves to Queen's Park Rangers and Fulham.

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