Henry adds to Arsenal striker crisis

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The Independent Online

There must be a black cat permanently jaywalking in N5 right now. No sooner had the realisation hit the Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, that he was down to one senior striker for tonight's FA Cup fifth-round replay against Sheffield United than that one player, Thierry Henry, broke down with a recurrence of the Achilles problem that has plagued him for a year.

There must be a black cat permanently jaywalking in N5 right now. No sooner had the realisation hit the Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, that he was down to one senior striker for tonight's FA Cup fifth-round replay against Sheffield United than that one player, Thierry Henry, broke down with a recurrence of the Achilles problem that has plagued him for a year.

Given that the competition represents Arsenal's best chance of winning a trophy this season - a bitter thought for them to contemplate - the withdrawal is all the more damaging. But maybe Wenger also has half an eye on the cavalry charge his players will have to mount in next week's Champions' League second leg against Bayern Munich at Highbury. If Henry is absent for that one too, they may as well not bother even to saddle up. And a buffeting at Bramall Lane would not have enhanced his chances.

The Frenchman will, nevertheless, be sorely missed - along with the suspended Dennis Bergkamp, Jose Antonio Reyes and Robin van Persie and the injured Edu, Gilberto Silva, Sol Campbell, Justin Hoyte and Robert Pires, who was yesterday ruled out of the Champions' League second leg. That constitutes some roll-call of absentees. Wenger will have to decide whether to risk the 21-year-old Jérémie Aliadière, who has not played since damaging a cruciate ligament in the Community Shield last August, 19-year-old Quincy Owusu-Abeyie or Arturo Lupoli, just 17, to partner, probably, Fredrik Ljungberg in attack.

"Thierry is out with an Achilles problem," Wenger confirmed. "Therefore I have to think about who I play up front. Ljungberg is an option but anyway we need a second striker. I don't know which yet ... but I feel Aliadière is too short [of match practice]. He has only had 60 minutes of reserve football after six months out. He can come on for 20 minutes but I don't think he will start." Lupoli, with just three senior appearances, is favourite.

Matters are further complicated by Ljungberg's declaration that he "didn't really enjoy" playing up front against Bayern. "I enjoy it when I'm between the midfield and the main striker," he said. "But when it's long balls and more physical it's not really my type of game." Are you reading, Neil Warnock? Ljungberg also fuelled the animus between his and Warnock's side by questioning the decision to ban Bergkamp and Reyes while "it seems to be more acceptable to stud someone in the head like they [Sheffield United] did with [Cesc Fabregas] because nothing happened to them. It seems a bit weird".

That was in reference to the incident involving the Sheffield United defender Danny Cullip, which sparked the fracas for which both Arsenal strikers were eventually punished.

Arsenal would do well to draw on their reserves - literally - against a side they beat two seasons ago in the semi-final to win the Cup which was, then, their only trophy. But it provided a springboard for last term's unbeaten League campaign and Wenger knows that another triumph will provide some salvation for a squad looking in need of renewal, but which, also, will soon welcome back Gilberto.

The Brazilian said yesterday that he hopes to recover this month from his back injury. "The lessons for us have been hard. We have paid a big, big price, but we can be stronger after this big storm," Gilberto said.

Warnock did his best to whip up a few more clouds in claiming that if Arsenal do not win "there really will be problems, because this is their best opportunity of silverware".

Warnock added: "It puts pressure on them. If they hadn't have scored that late goal in the Champions' League then this would have been everything. He [Wenger] can't leave anyone out. He hasn't got any strikers left."

Warnock is only missing the suspended Cullip and, despite his achievements as a manager, said he would rate victory in this tie as "the best result in my whole career. I've had four play-off final wins, which was unbelievable to get promotion, but, as a one-off, this would top the lot." Wenger will not want to oblige.

* Bayern Munich's playmaker Mehmet Scholl has been ruled out of his side's return Champions' League tie with Arsenal next week. The 34-year-old tore a thigh muscle during the 1-0 win at Freiburg at the weekend.

Weapons of choice three key battles of Bramall Lane

Patrick Vieira v Phil Jagielka

Neil Warnock calls Jagielka, the 22-year-old defender turned central midfielder "my Patrick Vieira". But on recent form Arsène Wenger will maybe hope that Vieira (right) can be his Jagielka. With their absentees, Arsenal need a commanding, driving, captaining performance from Vieira.

Ashley Cole v Michael Tonge

Tonge (right) has long been regarded as one of the most talented players outside the Premiership, once attracting Liverpool in particular. Has a strong shot, passes cleverly and runs well with the ball. Lacks pace, which may prove a problem against Cole, who will look to attack. Could be a pivotal contest.

Fredrik Ljungberg v Chris Morgan

Morgan is expected to play because Danny Cullip is suspended. He is not known for a cool head and can commit rash challenges. May be one of three central defenders and whether he faces up to Ljungberg remains to be seen but the Swede's pace, and clever running could be a problem. If he is pushed too far forward he will be easily contained.

Silent Gunners forwards out

Suspended: Jose Antonio Reyes, Dennis Bergkamp, Robin van Persie

Injured: Thierry Henry, Robert Pires

Not match fit: Jérémie Aliadière

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