Bergkamp back to lift Arsenal's home prospects

Highbury factor and Dutch striker's return can give Wenger's men decisive lift against Ukranian outsiders
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The Independent Football

Arsenal go into their first Champions' League match to be played on genuinely home turf tonight knowing that their opponents probably expect to lose and desperate to prove that assessment correct.

Arsenal go into their first Champions' League match to be played on genuinely home turf tonight knowing that their opponents probably expect to lose and desperate to prove that assessment correct.

After two seasons of failed European campaigning at Wembley, the Gunners will not only want to beat Shakhtar Donetsk in front of a Highbury crowd, but do so in a manner that shows they can hold their own against the very best in Europe, not least their next Group B opponents, Lazio.

The likes of the Italian side's Claudio Lopez, Pavel Nedved and Simone Inzaghi, who each scored against Shakhtar last week, as well as their £36m man Hernan Crespo, who was not fit to start that game, are more typical of the calibre of opponents standing in the way of the chase for silverware. Not that victory this evening (which will be Arsenal's 100th match in European club football) should be entirely taken for granted.

The Ukrainians may have succumbed at home to Lazio last week - while the Gunners were winning 1-0 at Sparta Prague - but they too want to justify their place in the Continent's most glamorous tournament. "People might rate us as No 32 of the 32 teams competing in the Champions' League but I'm sure that doesn't relate to our quality," Shakhtar's president, Rinat Akhmetov, said. He added that his club would not conform to stereotype without a fight. "As Alexander the Great once said: 'He who is afraid to lose will never taste victory'."

One Arsenal player who knows more than most about Shakhtar is their Ukrainian defender, Oleg Luzhny, who returned to the Gunners' starting line-up for last Saturday's 2-1 win over Coventry and should retain his place because Lee Dixon is still struggling to be fit after a knee injury.

"Shakhtar are a very good side," the former Dynamo Kiev player said. "The Ukrainian league has not been around that long, but the side were also strong when the Soviet Union had one league. Arsenal should be careful of their ability. They are a collective force with no real superstars. That is their strength. They are a physical, very fit side whose strength lies in attack. I would doubt they would come to Highbury just to defend."

Shakhtar travel with a squad including eight internationals and two of their key players are the midfielder Sergei Popov, who is his side's captain and most capped player, and the striker Andrei Vorobei, who is arguably the best forward in eastern European football and is currently Ukraine's leading scorer. Vorobei also scored the last-minute equaliser against Slavia Prague that helped his side through the final qualifying round of the Champions' League.

Arsenal have prolific front men of their own, of course, and three are likely to be deployed this evening in some shape or other. Arsÿne Wenger rested Thierry Henry and Nwankwo Kanu on Saturday against Coventry in anticipation of tonight's match but, while it is almost certain the young Frenchman will start, the Nigerian could find himself beginning the game on the bench.

If that is the case Dennis Bergkamp, who only has club trophies to look forward to now he has retired from the international scene, might play in a creative role just behind Henry and his fellow European Championship-winning team-mate, Sylvain Wiltord. The latter lacks full match fitness but showed with a goal against Coventry that his pace and predatory instincts can be dangerous none the less.

Tony Adams faces a late fitness test, as does Dixon and Ray Parlour, who Wenger said yesterday "is still not 100 per cent". Parlour was in such discomfort during the game against Coventry that he had five stitches removed from a gashed knee so he could move more freely. Patrick Vieira, whose five-match suspension for two consecutive red cards at the start of the season does not include European games, is more than capable of playing a compensating role in midfield.

Arsenal (probable; 4-3-1-2): Seaman; Luzhny, Keown, Adams, Silvinho; Ljungberg, Vieira, Pires; Bergkamp; Henry, Wiltord.

Shakhtar Donetsk (probable; 4-4-2): Virt; Glevetskas, Popov, Shevchyuk, Shmarko; Tymoshchyuk, Bakharev, Zubov, Abramov; Atelkin, Vorobei.

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