Football: Wenger takes positive line

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The Independent Online
THE CHANT of "Arsenal, Arsenal" from Lens supporters soon after the end of Wednesday's drawn Champions' League Group E match at Stade Felix-Bollaert reflected the genuine warmth felt towards the double-winners by an Anglophile club, but was undoubtedly tinged with relief as well. The home side, as their passionate followers well knew, should have been on the end of a drubbing.

Arsenal had played well enough, above all through most of the second half, to secure the victory that would have set them up perfectly for forthcoming games at their adopted Wembley home against Panathinaikos and then Dynamo Kiev.

Marc Overmars, having scored in the 50th minute, hit a post and then the bar, and Nicolas Anelka shot wildly high before Racing Club caught them dropping their hands on the line. Heads dropped, too, in shame at a most uncharacteristic lack of professionalism, as the old guard at the back were hoist with their own petard, the near-post corner routine.

Arsene Wenger, returning to France four years to the week after his last match as coach of Monaco, chose to emphasise the positive, pointing to Kiev's defeat by the Greek champions as the best outcome for Arsenal and praising Anelka for his overall contribution rather than criticising his finishing. "If we play at this level in every game we can go through the group," Wenger insisted. "We know we should have scored more goals, but it proved that we have not been as weak this season as people said we were."

He also had genuine reason to be delighted with his two other French internationals (Arsenal having gone into the game with more of them than the champions of France). Emmanuel Petit and Patrick Vieira were an outstanding pair in the centre of midfield, though there was one blot on each performance.

Vieira committed the foul - and received a yellow card for it - which led indirectly to Lens' equaliser and Petit was forced off by a bad tackle 20 minutes from the end. The consequent ankle injury could keep him out of Sunday's set-to against Manchester United, in which Arsenal will be keen to remind the northern pretenders which team is contesting the European Cup this season by right and which by reason of Uefa's expediency.