Arsenal face Chelsea in 'anti-climax'

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The Independent Online

Well at least Dennis Bergkamp will be pleased. The non-flying Dutchman was the biggest beneficiary yesterday of the draw for the quarter-finals of the Champions' League which pitted his club Arsenal against Chelsea. After all it means he will finally be available for the away leg of a European tie. For everyone else - including both managers - it was all a bit of an anti-climax.

Well at least Dennis Bergkamp will be pleased. The non-flying Dutchman was the biggest beneficiary yesterday of the draw for the quarter-finals of the Champions' League which pitted his club Arsenal against Chelsea. After all it means he will finally be available for the away leg of a European tie. For everyone else - including both managers - it was all a bit of an anti-climax.

The sense of disappointment was evident even if the tie means England will definitely have a representative in the last four for the first time in three years, although once there the winner is likely to meet Real Madrid. That sets up the prospect of either the Spaniards' No 1 transfer target Thierry Henry playing in the Bernabeu or David Beckham up against the team owned by the man who apparently covets him the most, Roman Abramovich.

But first there is the biggest London derby of all-time, at least in financial terms with an estimated £10m at stake in prize-money, gate receipts and revenue from television. The match is also the first time since 1978, when Nottingham Forest defeated the holders, Liverpool, and went on to win the European Cup, that two English clubs have met in the premier knock-out competition. And even then the previous tie was in the first round and not at this advanced stage.

The advantage undoubtedly lies at Highbury and not just because of the incandescent form of Bergkamp, who will be a pivotal figure, Henry and their team-mates. Arsenal have already beaten Chelsea three times this season, including twice last month, both by the scoreline of 2-1, in the Premiership and, for the fourth year in a row, the FA Cup. More incredibly it is 16 matches and more than five years since Chelsea were victorious, and even then both sides fielded below-par line-ups in the League Cup. Victory has not been tasted since Claudio Ranieri became head coach and often, crucially, leads have been surrendered. Maybe the Italian's best hope is that the run has to end eventually.

Little wonder Arsène Wenger believes his side has a psychological edge. "We know that we've already beaten Chelsea and that we can do it again if we perform at our best as we've shown that before," Wenger said. "They have always been hard games against Chelsea but maybe we've had the psychological advantage. All runs eventually have to come to an end - but hopefully as late as possible. We will treat it as a normal game, like the semi-finals of the FA Cup." Even so, he endorsed the view of the vice-chairman, David Dein, who said the draw was "anti-climactic".

"The good thing is that there will be an English team in the semi-finals," Wenger said. "But the negative thing is that it takes a bit of the charm away from a European Cup tie. You expect to play a team from another country." His captain, Patrick Vieira, agreed. "I don't mind who we play, apart from Chelsea," he said prior to the draw. For Arsenal there is now an incredible timetable of six games - including international friendlies involving England and France and two contests with Manchester United - in 20 days which will stretch their resources to the full and define their bid to win the treble. "This is the busiest schedule we have ever had," Wenger said.

The mood within the Chelsea camp was more sober, and not just because of the hand injury sustained by their goalkeeper, Carlo Cudicini, which rules him out for a month and the continued, irritating speculation over Ranieri's future. There is also the belief that the club is perhaps suited more to European than domestic competition - and that has been punctured by drawing another Premiership side.

However, the Chelsea midfielder, Frank Lampard, revealed his annoyance at the lack of credit he feels the big-spending club, who have won their last five away ties in Europe, has received for getting this far particularly after the tie against Stuttgart. "Some people said we were lucky to get through but Manchester United were out and Arsenal had a difficult game against Celta Vigo," he said. "We're not playing nobodies now. We're playing the top teams in Europe so qualifying for the quarter-finals is a great achievement in itself. I'd like to see a few more people saying that we did well to get there, rather than criticising the way in which we got there." Nevertheless the club secretary at Chelsea, David Barnard, shared the sense of disappointment.

"We've not got the challenge of foreign opponents and we know each other back to front. We know enough about them," he said before admitting: "we hoped to avoid them. It would have been nice if our fans had another chance to use their passports." But in one way, at least, the winner of the tie will be entering uncharted territory. Chelsea and Arsenal lost their only previous foray into the last eight of the Champions' League, in 2000 and 2001 respectively, and that, of course, cannot happen this time.

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