Bergkamp ready to hit the road to aid Arsenal cause
Thursday 19 September 2002
The abiding memory of Arsenal's doomed Champions' League campaign last season is the sight of Dennis Bergkamp fidgeting on the bench in Leverkusen.
Then the gifted striker made an 800-mile round road trip only to be left on the sidelines as his team-mates dropped the two points which would ultimately cost them a quarter-final place. This season the non-flying Dutchman has offered to go on the road again, to Eindhoven, Auxerre and Dortmund. The question is whether Arsène Wenger will take advantage.
"I am available. Now it is up to the manager to make the choice," said Bergkamp yesterday. "It is in his hands."
Wenger said he had yet to make up his mind but any observer of Bergkamp's early-season form would be in no doubt. Bergkamp, who scored the opening goal in Tuesday night's defeat of Borussia Dortmund and created a series of spurned chances, must play against PSV next Wednesday.
However, three factors weigh on Wenger's mind. One is wariness of Bergkamp being seen by his team-mates as picking the games he plays in. Nor does he want the squad to feel they are reliant upon the Dutchman. The next round might send the Londoners to Turkey, Greece and Spain. Wenger is also aware that, at 33, Bergkamp could be drained by the travelling, with damaging consequences later in the season.
Bergkamp's eagerness is unsurprising. He has accumulated an impressive range of honours but the biggest prizes have always eluded him. His international career is over, having reached and lost semi-finals in both a World Cup and European Championship. In a club career encompassing Ajax, Internazionale and Arsenal he has achieved domestic and European success but not in the premier prize, the European Cup. This season he, like Wenger, believes that omission can be rectified.
"I think I have a better chance of winning the Champions' League than ever before," he said. "You never know what will happen the following year for both yourself and the team. You never know how long you can keep a team together. The squad is quite unique and the strongest we've had since I've been here."
Bergkamp is in his eighth season at Highbury and he said: "It would mean something special to me if we won the competition this season. I feel I have become part of Arsenal. A lot of players stay here a long time and you can see that from the French players who all came after me. They feel at home here and want to stay longer."
While Fredrik Ljungberg's successful comeback has given Wenger options should he wish to rest Bergkamp, there is no one at Highbury who can fully replicate the Dutchman's intuitive passing. Arsenal were undone by their away form in Europe last season and Wenger may feel he cannot do without him. As Robert Pires is due to return in early November, there should be plenty of opportunities to rest Bergkamp later.
* The Football Association said no action would be taken against Thierry Henry following his alleged use of an elbow on the Charlton midfielder John Robinson last Saturday.
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