Australian jaunt upsets Arsenal

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The Independent Online

Arsenal's preparations for the first north London derby since Sol Campbell's transfer are likely to be upset by French demands that four key players appear in Australia just six days beforehand.

The Gunners, already unhappy at having Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, Robert Pires and Sylvain Wiltord taken to South America to play for France this week, will have to release the players to travel half-way round the world and back before the White Hart Lane fixture.

In their global pursuit of pre-World Cup fixtures the French have arranged to play Australia in Melbourne on 11 November. Manchester United, Chelsea and Fulham are also likely to be affected with Roger Lemerre, the French coach, expected to call-up nine Premiership players.

The Arsenal quartet, together with Marcel Desailly and Emmanuel Petit of Chelsea, and Manchester United's Mikäel Silvestre, arrived in Santiago on Tuesday for Saturday's friendly with Chile. Steve Marlet, Fulham's new signing, is due to arrive this morning after completing his transfer to Craven Cottage. All eight – plus Fabien Barthez, who pulled out of this match with an injury, and the Manchester United transfer target Bixente Lizarazu – can expect to travel to Australia.

A French spokesperson said: "Only Lemerre knows who he will pick; he is the boss and no one can tell him what to do. As it is getting close to the World Cup he will probably take a strong squad. There is no point in taking players who will not play in the World Cup."

The fixture coincides with the first leg of the European Zone's play-offs which will involve one country, possibly England, playing home-and-away fixtures against a nation from the Asian confederation.

Arsenal cannot even ask for the 17 November fixture to be moved back to the Sunday as the Champions' League resumes the following week and the Gunners could have to play on the Tuesday.

The French have also arranged friendlies in February, March and April, against Romania, Scotland and Russia. However, these matches are all to be staged in Paris.

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