Arsenal take a trip to the city of heat

Champions' League: Wenger wary of a hostile reception as Panathinaikos opt for 16,000-capacity home ground over the Olympic Stadium
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And so to another "city of hate". When Arsenal wafted in from Luton for this evening's Champions' League tie against Panathinaikos, the Greek capital was as hot as expected in a meteorological sense (35C); whether the home supporters live up to their fearsome advanced billing remains to be seen.

And so to another "city of hate". When Arsenal wafted in from Luton for this evening's Champions' League tie against Panathinaikos, the Greek capital was as hot as expected in a meteorological sense (35C); whether the home supporters live up to their fearsome advanced billing remains to be seen.

It is not unknown for these things to be exaggerated. The unexpected warmth of Bilbao's welcome to an apprehensive England squad at the 1982 World Cup caused it to be rechristened the "city of hake". For journalists in Lens with Arsenal three years ago, the only worry turned out to be that a typographical error might transform the passionate little industrial town into a city of pate.

Reasons for disquiet here are the torrid reception given to Hibernian last week by supporters of AEK Athens, who burnt an American flag while jeering the one-minute silence, and Panathinaikos's decision to stage tonight's game at their own intimidating little ground instead of the much grander Olympic Stadium. Arsenal's manager, Arsène Wenger, said: "They could sell 70,000 or 80,000 tickets but they are playing in a stadium of 16,000 people. It's like the old Southampton ground. It will be hostile and loud." He believes, however, that Premiership players should not be fazed by home crowds: "The advantage we have as English teams is to have that kind of atmosphere every week. If you go to Sunderland, with 45,000, or Newcastle, with nearly 60,000, its like going to Athens – worse even."

Precisely which players Wenger will send out in the Apostolos Nikolaides Stadium cannot be determined until this morning, when the versatile Cameroon international Lauren has his troublesome knee checked again. As soon as one Arsenal defender returns, it seems, another drops out; although Ashley Cole and Martin Keown are available tonight, Gilles Grimandi was injured against Bolton on Saturday, when the gamble of playing Tony Adams tossed him his place this evening.

If Lauren cannot fill the right-back position that he has been occupying all season in Lee Dixon's absence, Oleg Luzhny will have to play there, with either Matthew Upson or Igor Stepanovs alongside Keown in the centre. It could be a last chance for Upson, whom Southampton are believed to be keen to sign. Something of a prodigy while with Luton Town, he has not developed as Arsenal had hoped and is now the victim of catch-22: because he has not played enough, he is neither sufficiently experienced nor match-fit. "He had a few setbacks for different reasons," Wenger said. "The competition was very high and he was always injured. He's a worrier, an anxious type and he needs to play without any injury to be confident again." Upson played one of his few European games when a second-string Arsenal team, already eliminated from the Champions' League, beat Panathinaikos 3-1 in 1998.

Questions of selection in other positions offer a better choice: Ray Parlour or Giovanni van Bronckhorst in mid-field, and Sylvain Wiltord, Francis Jeffers or Kanu to partner Thierry Henry in attack. Despite Jeffers having scored his first goal for the club on Saturday, Wenger is likely to go for Wiltord's pace and aggression.

Panathinaikos, like Bolton, are surprising pacesetters. Victories away to Schalke and at home to Real Mallorca, without conceding a goal, have put them in control of Group C as well as opening it up for the other teams. A draw tonight would therefore be a useful result for both sides, and ought to be within Arsenal's compass.

They have, however, lost five of there last six Champions' League away games, including the 1-0 defeat by Mallorca a fortnight ago, and they need the patchwork defence to hold firmer than it did on that occasion and in the fortuitous 3-2 home win over Shalke.

"You need one result away from home," Wenger added. "We have to score. In Athens you can't just defend and defend because the home crowd can get them a goal. We have to try not to be intimidated." Some like it hot. Athens will discover this evening whether Arsenal are among them.

Panathinaikos (Probable, 4-4-2): Nikopolidis; Seitaridis, Henriksen, Kyrgiakos, Fyssas; Michaelson, Basinas, Paulo Sousa, Karagounis; Vlaovic, Constantinou.

Arsenal (Probable 4-4-2): Seaman; Lauren, Luzhny, Keown, Cole; Ljungberg, Vieira, Van Bronckhorst, Pires; Wiltord, Henry.

Referee: V Pereira (Portugal)

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