Football: Wenger to use attack as main means of defence

The Arsenal manager believes his side will rely on firepower to succeed in the Champions' League.
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The Independent Online
IT WAS not just Arsenal who watched with mixed emotions as Manchester United dramatically eclipsed Bayern Munich to win the European Cup in Barcelona's Nou Camp last May. The host club were also riven with jealousy as their centenary season ended with someone else's triumph.

Tonight, as English football returns to Catalonia for the first time since that memorable evening, both Arsenal and Barcelona hope to take a significant step in their quest to usurp United's crown.

Barcelona have taken a maximum six points from their opening Champions' League Group B matches; Arsenal, from a harder programme, have garnered four. Victory for either will put them on course for the next round.

"We are at a key stage of the group and victory would mean a lot," Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, said. "It would put us in a position to progress and convince everybody we can do well, including the players. Arsenal have never done well in the Champions' League and it is a big target this season."

Victory? Arsenal would be happy with a point but do not intend to simply play for one. Wenger is well aware that Barcelona have so much attacking quality that it would be foolhardy to just defend. They must put their opponents' defence, which has conceded five goals in the last three games, under pressure.

"There are two factors, the technique of their players and the huge pitch," Wenger said. "It means that they can pass and pass and pass. If you chase the ball they will slowly kill you, it would be like drowning.

"So we must not let them control the ball without challenge, we must attack them too. They are better balanced than last year [when Barcelona drew twice with Manchester United], Josep Guardiola has stabilised the midfield. He has the science to know when to give, and when to keep the ball. But while they score a lot they concede as well. If they have a weakness it is at the back."

Barcelona have a problem at the front, too, a different one: who to leave out. Dani, having scored a hat-trick at the weekend, is likely to make way as Patrick Kluivert leads the attack against the club that tried to buy him two years ago.

In the continued absence of Emmanuel Petit, Ray Parlour is expected to move inside, though Gilles Grimandi could play. Davor Suker and Dennis Bergkamp are likely to lead the attack. "The Dutch players here feel he is a major threat," said Rivaldo of Bergkamp. "He will be tightly marked and given little time on the ball. We may even use two markers to close him down and cut off his supply."

Bergkamp, having travelled by car again, trained with the team last night but it was Alex Manninger who was the centre of attention. The Austrian goalkeeper, a Barcelona fan, injured his wrist on Saturday and said on arrival that he had not caught a ball since. If he suffers a reaction to last night's session, David Seaman will come in for his first game of the season. The England veteran injured a calf in the last minute of the final pre-season friendly, and Wenger said: "He would have wanted one more week of full training, but he has the experience to cope."

The match will have a pronounced Dutch flavour, with the Netherlands providing Bergkamp and Marc Overmars for Arsenal and coach Louis van Gaal and at least five players for Barcelona.

Despite successive titles, Van Gaal still incites heated debate here, partly because of his arrogance but also because of his reliance on Dutch players - there may only be two Spaniards in the Barcelona team tonight. Virtually the first question posed to Nwankwo Kanu by Spanish television at the airport was about Van Gaal, who coached him, Bergkamp and Overmars at Ajax.

Overmars unexpectedly compared him to Jim Smith, though the Derby manager may not appreciate his reasoning. "I was with Van Gaal for seven years, I owe so much to the man," Overmars said. "He is criticised but he can produce things many coaches cannot. He has an enquiring mind and gives you confidence. He sometimes shouts, sometimes he has a temper like Jim Smith, but you have to know him. He started everything for me."

It is Arsenal's first visit to Spain, though they have previously lost two Cup-Winners' Cup finals to Spanish teams. Barcelona have lost once in 18 matches against English clubs at the Nou Camp (to Liverpool in 1976) and start as favourites. "But," Overmars noted, "we have the same spirit as Manchester United had last season." With only 1,400 supporters among the 98,000-seat amphitheatre they will need it - and probably a slice of United's luck as well.

Barcelona (probable): Hesp; F de Boer, Bogarde, Reiziger, Guardiola, Sergi, Luis Enrique, Figo, Litmanen, Kluivert, Rivaldo.

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

Referee: M Merk (Germany).