The build-up to Arsenal's FA Cup final against Manchester United on Saturday began in earnest yesterday when the Highbury club took the unprecedented step of announcing that their striker Thierry Henry would not be fit to play in the match.
The recurrence of an Achilles injury to the French striker was revealed by the club with an openness that will be baffling to Sir Alex Ferguson, who keeps the state of his own players' fitness a closely guarded secret and considers the line-up of his team a private matter right up until an hour before kick-off.
The loss of Henry will be considered a consequence of the striker's gruelling regime this season during which the 27-year-old has played 49 games including French internationals. He missed five games before returning for the 7-0 defeat of Everton last week but was absent again on Sunday when his side lost away to Birmingham City in the last game of their Premiership season.
The original problem was with Henry's groin, but an old Achilles injury has made it difficult for him to train since the Everton game on Wednesday.
Despite their injury problems at the start of the season, United now have a fully fit squad apart from Gabriel Heinze, who is almost certain to miss the FA Cup final. Cristiano Ronaldo, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville all missed Sunday's game against Southampton as a precaution.
Arsenal's midfielder Freddie Ljungberg has declared himself fit to play against United after returning from a hip problem to play in the 2-1 defeat at Birmingham. He said: "I think I will be available and I definitely hope so. We will have to see how it reacts in training. It is still a bit swollen and it feels like a big bruise but it felt good in the game - I can play with it.
"I felt quite good overall. To be honest, I had only trained twice with the team before the game and it's important to play because you can get into the tempo, it is just not the same as in training.
"I got a bit out of breath in the first half but then I got going again. I did not want to overdo it so I came off after 65 or 70 minutes but overall it was fine."
Patrick Vieira has given the North London club some good news after he said that he wants to stay at Arsenal until the end of his contract in 2007. "For the time being, my contract with Arsenal is still running and I don't want to leave," he said.
The Frenchman added that his focus was now on the FA Cup final. "We played pretty well throughout the season but we failed to reach our two goals which were the title and the Champions' League," he said.
"If we win the Cup, we could say that we have had an average season, even if I'm certain that our side was stronger than last year," he added.
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