Vieira set to face United as Arsenal admit failings

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The Independent Online

Patrick Vieira appears likely to recover from a twisted ankle to take his place in the Arsenal team against Manchester United on Sunday. The captain has made good progress and his return will be a relief to Arsène Wenger whose side so clearly lacked Vieira's physical presence in Wednesday night's disappointing Champions' League draw in Athens, against Panathinaikos, that led to Arsenal being deposed as leaders of Group E.

Patrick Vieira appears likely to recover from a twisted ankle to take his place in the Arsenal team against Manchester United on Sunday. The captain has made good progress and his return will be a relief to Arsène Wenger whose side so clearly lacked Vieira's physical presence in Wednesday night's disappointing Champions' League draw in Athens, against Panathinaikos, that led to Arsenal being deposed as leaders of Group E.

PSV Eindhoven's late victory away to Rosenborg means that Arsenal's progress is less secure than it had seemed. Wenger's side remain unbeaten but for the second match in a row they let slip a winning position against limited opponents who simply took a more aggressive approach. They will now have to win their remaining two home matches.

It is a puzzle for Wenger and his midfielder Fredrik Ljungberg, who scored against both the Greek and the Norwegian champions, hinted at the anxieties that seem to affect the players in European competition. "Maybe sometimes in Europe we want to win so much that we sit back and defend our lead a bit too much and let them get the initiative," Ljungberg said, in an honest assessment of Arsenal's failings against Panathinaikos. "It's a bit annoying to concede goals when we're leading," he said.

The Arsenal goalkeeper Jens Lehmann appeared culpable in both incidents. For the first he failed to clear the ball far enough with a header, and was slow to react to Ezequiel Gonzalez's lob, while for the second he was stranded at corner. It will once again reopen the debate as to whether the German - who has made mistakes in key matches, especially last season in this competition - is a long-term solution in goal.

Ljungberg said: "It's not nice when someone jumps up and heads the ball in without getting challenged. I'm not blaming anyone in particular, but we do need to concentrate on the set-pieces."

Also of concern to Wenger will be the poor showing of Thierry Henry, his captain in Vieira's absence. Henry scored Arsenal's second goal but had what many observers believed was his poorest game for the club. He appeared distracted by the events of three years ago when he was involved in a row with Panathinaikos players in Arsenal's defeat. Neither he nor the Greek fans seem to have forgotten what happened. "I didn't want them to think I didn't like them," Henry said when asked about his muted goal celebrations.

However, Henry contended that Arsenal did show "fighting spirit". "That's the thing we didn't have before," he said. "We have the passing and movement, but we have added the fighting spirit."

Indeed, Henry said the match - and the previous tie away to Rosenborg - were contests Arsenal would have lost "a couple of seasons ago. When Panathinaikos scored their first equaliser, maybe three years ago we would conceded another one and not attacked any more," he said. "They're a difficult team to play. They fight a lot, try to go forward and don't give up."

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