Wenger must switch on the power

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The Independent Online

The disappointment in Highbury and surrounding districts after Tuesday's opening Champions' League games was more than matched by gloom in Gelsenkirchen, where Schalke 04's first-ever match in the competition ended in the anti-climax of a 2-0 home defeat. That combination of results adds even greater importance to Wed-nesday's meeting of the clubs in north London and, indeed, to the other Group C game taking place simultaneously between last week's two winners, Real Mallorca and Panathinaikos.

The disappointment in Highbury and surrounding districts after Tuesday's opening Champions' League games was more than matched by gloom in Gelsenkirchen, where Schalke 04's first-ever match in the competition ended in the anti-climax of a 2-0 home defeat. That combination of results adds even greater importance to Wed-nesday's meeting of the clubs in north London and, indeed, to the other Group C game taking place simultaneously between last week's two winners, Real Mallorca and Panathinaikos.

Suddenly the balance of power has shifted in a section in which Arsenal were the seeded club and Schalke the team expected to push them hardest. As Arsène Wenger put it on Friday: "Schalke's loss was a big surprise. That puts Panathinaikos as well in a very good position and makes every point important. Now Schalke is a huge game for both teams."

The Germans, from the heartland of the industrial Ruhrgebiet, are one of the country's less fashionable clubs, albeit one with a large and devoted following: there are more than 1,000 Schalke supporters' clubs, spreading far beyond German borders, and average attendances remained consistently high even before last summer's move to the futuristic Arena AufSchalke. Yet the last of seven national titles came as long ago as 1958, five years before the Bundesliga was founded. Finishing third in 1996 and upsetting Internazionale to win the Uefa Cup the following season interrupted a long run of mid-table mediocrity, which two years ago almost slid into something worse, as relegation was avoided by only two places.

Huub Stevens, the Dutchman taken on as coach five years ago, brought about such an astonishing improvement last season that Schalke finished their final match convinced they had won a first Bundesliga title; Bayern Munich, their only rivals, were losing 1-0 in Hamburg, but scrambled an equalising goal four minutes into stoppage time to leave their president, Franz Beckenbauer, admitting: "It's miracle."

At least the runners-up position guaranteed a first shot at the Champions' League, though that finished in the anti-climax of the Panathinaikos match. After a first half in which Schalke's pacy forwards, with the experienced Andy Möller just behind them, were unable to create a decent chance, the home side, urged on by an impatient crowd of 52,000, lost their discipline and were caught out on the counterattack twice in the last 15 minutes.

Wenger believes that, despite the gifts given to the Greeks, Schalke are "a very strong side, very fast up front". He anticipates that Tony Adams will be available after missing the game in Majorca, when Sol Campbell was not as steady as expected alongside Martin Keown. The fixtures are piling up, which makes France's insistence on following their recent long-haul trip to Chile with another friendly in Australia, on 11 November, all the more irritating for clubs such as Arsenal, and a little embarrassing for Wenger.

"We don't want to fight with the French Football Federation, but we want them to know there's a problem," he said. "Of the four players who went to Chile, three came back sick and all of them were tired and not in the best shape for a very important game. They could limit the number of players from each club, but if Fifa insist, what can we do? The cheats will stay at home and the honest ones will go."

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