Wenger waits to unleash 'The Beast'

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The Independent Online

A new Champions' League campaign in a new stadium but Arsène Wenger cannot prevent himself at times from allowing his mind to drift back to the events of 17 May in Paris and wonder what might have been done differently on the night that Arsenal lost the European Cup final.

Porto are the opposition for the Emirates Stadium's full Champions' League debut tonight just 148 days after the first-leg victory over Villarreal brought the curtain down on Highbury's last European night. Wenger is not one of football's sentimentalists but even he admitted yesterday that on the occasions that he had chanced across one of his video analysts at the training ground watching last season's final he found it impossible not to sit down and relive the evening.

"You always think 'What could we have done differently?'" he said, which was a rare moment of regret from a man so committed to not looking back. But the visit of Porto, who won the competition under Jose Mourinho two years ago is a cruel reminder that the Champions' League requires even big clubs to seize their moment in history - because it is so rare to get a second chance.

"I know one thing, no matter when I stop, I will always feel I have not done enough," Wenger said. "Will it be having won the Champions' League or without having won the Champions' League? Personally, I want it to be having won the Champions' League. I know I will always have that feeling - even if I won the Champions' League three seasons running, I would still think it. I do not know why, but it is like that."

The Emirates has some act to follow after the classic European nights of last season at Highbury when Juventus and Villarreal were beaten and Real Madrid held to the season's most thrilling 0-0 draw - and all of them were eliminated by Arsenal. Victory over Sheffield United on Saturday was the first Premiership home win - "I feel it's getting better every game," Wenger said. "You only feel really at home in your house when you know where everything is."

Freddie Ljungberg and Johan Djourou should be fit to face a Porto team who are Portuguese champions and who have begun the domestic season by winning all four opening games. That means Julio Baptista, of the formidable Brazilian reputation but timid introduction to English football, will have to wait for his chance.

The man who chose Real Madrid ahead of Arsenal one year ago, only to be loaned out by the Spanish side after a poor season, was known as "the Beast" in happier times at Seville. Yesterday, Wenger described him in different but equally lurid terms. "A killer" was how the Arsenal manager sees his new attacker once in front of goal. "When he is running with the ball," Wenger added, "you just feel this guy cannot be stopped."

He dismissed the suggestion that Arsenal had signed up a bigger Baptista than they bid for last year and that the Brazilian is overweight. "He is massive, he looks like a boxer," Wenger said. "When you see his body he does not have fat at all. He is muscular and is in the gym everyday. He looks after himself, he is not overweight.

"He has yet to adapt. It is more adaptation to the pace of the game and the movement here. Intelligence wise he has no problem, quality-wise he is a big player. It is just adaptation. Some players take more time." The Baptista deal is complicated but Arsenal will have the chance to make his move permanent in January or next summer - a decision that is contingent on the player settling in England.

Facing Arsenal tonight will be Helder Postiga, whose ill-starred season at Tottenham three years ago is unlikely to earn him any sympathy but, according to Wenger, he was dropped too quickly by the local rivals.

"Sometimes when a player leaves their country at a young age as a big prospect with a big transfer fee they cannot necessarily cope with it," he said. "It looked like that at Tottenham. But when he [Postiga] played against us I thought the boy had talent but afterwards he did not perform at the level he needed to achieve."

Postiga played at Highbury on 8 November 2003, he missed two chances to seal the game after Tottenham held a one-goal lead for 64 minutes - as long as Arsenal were behind in their 49-match unbeaten run. Arsenal won 2-1 and did not lose in the Premiership until the following October.

The 18-year-old Brazilian striker Anderson is Porto's latest star, billed as the "new Ronaldinho". Wenger said he expected Porto to be "more cautious" after Arsenal's Champions' League run last season - at home in Europe, it is something they might have to get used to.

Arsenal (probable) (4-4-2): Lehmann; Eboué, Touré, Djourou, Gallas; Ljungberg, Gilberto Silva, Fabregas, Rosicky; Henry, Adebayor.

Porto (probable) (4-2-1-3): Helton; Bosingwa, Bruno Alves, Pepe, Cech; Raul Meireles, Lucho Gonzalez; Anderson; Quaresma, Adriano, Postiga.

Referee: S Farina (Italy)

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