Wenger places emphasis on power play

Arsenal and Leeds take different approaches to stiff challenges in first leg of European Cup quarter-finals tonight
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The Independent Online
Arsenal's manager, Arsène Wenger, is asking his foreign legions to go native in tonight's European Cup quarter-final first leg against Valencia and overwhelm last season's runners-up with "English power".

Arsenal's manager, Arsène Wenger, is asking his foreign legions to go native in tonight's European Cup quarter-final first leg against Valencia and overwhelm last season's runners-up with "English power".

It is likely that only one of his front six players ­ Ray Parlour ­ will be British, but the incomers have shown in occasional spectacular bursts that they are capable of running the opposition off their feet at Highbury.

Sparta Prague, West Ham and Blackburn have all been hit by three goals before half-time in the last few months and Wenger wants a similar display of force against this evening's higher class of opposition.

"We need quality of passing and calm as well, but English power, physical power, will be important in the box and in the last third [of the pitch]" he said. "We have improved our presence in the box, but that kind of physical commitment you have in the English League can also come from runs from midfield or from the flanks."

Sylvain Wiltord, who scored a hat-trick in the first 39 minutes against West Ham but has started only one of 12 European games this season, is the striker best equipped to unsettle an opposing defence with power, which could give him an edge over the more subtle Nwankwo Kanu as Thierry Henry's partner. Dennis Bergkamp is injured, as is Gilles Grimandi, which points to a central midfield of Lauren and Patrick Vieira, flanked by Parlour and Robert Pires. The manager confirmed that Ashley Cole will keep his place at left-back ahead of Silvinho so, unusually for Arsenal, the team could be unchanged: that would reflect the unexpectedly low-key nature of Saturday's derby against a depleted (and soon to be de-Pleated) Tottenham. "Maybe mentally it was less stressful in the second half and we didn't use too much mental energy," Wenger said of the comfortable 2-0 victory.

On the subject of mental stress, just as Bayern Munich will never erase the scar to the psyche inflicted by Manchester United two years ago, whatever the outcome of this season's tie, so the name of Valencia will forever be associated in Arsenal minds with missed penalties by Liam Brady and Graham Rix and defeat in a shoot-out in the 1980 European Cup-Winners' Cup final.

After winning little else in the next two decades, the Spaniards were revived by first Claudio Ranieri and then the Argentinian Hector Cuper, who was named Uefa Coach of the Year after taking the club to the European Cup final last season and is the firm favourite ­ now that Wenger has dropped out of the running ­ to take over at Barcelona this summer.

"There is big pressure on us after reaching the final," Cuper said. "Anything less than reaching the final again will be considered a failure.

"Last season we took people by surprise," Cuper said. This season, the surprise has been that Valencia have been equally strong despite losing a number of players. Top of the Spanish League for some weeks before Christmas, they are now third behind Real Madrid and Deportivo La Coruña after suffering two successive defeats. The first team to qualify for the second stage of the Champions' League, after four straight wins, they then topped Manchester United's group after deservedly earning two draws against Sir Alex Ferguson's team.

Another statistic for Arsenal to ponder is their opponents' record of having conceded only 28 goals in 40 Spanish and European games, which suggests that few sides have been able to take advantage of any supposed slowing-up of the 35 year-old defenders Jocelyn Angloma and Amedeo Carboni.

The equally experienced Didier Deschamps has to sit out tonight's game with a hamstring injury, though Gaizka Mendieta and Cuper's countrymen Kily Gonzalez and Pablo Cesar Aimar offer different qualities in midfield to the former Chelsea water-carrier.

Deschamps believes that moving the ball quickly can unsettle Arsenal and that John Carew, the lanky Norwegian striker, will offer some English-style power of his own on an evening when Wenger would happily accept a 1-0 victory to take to the daunting Mestalla Stadium on Easter Tuesday.

Arsenal (probable, 4-4-2): Seaman; Dixon, Adams, Keown, Cole; Parlour, Lauren, Vieira, Pires; Wiltord (or Kanu), Henry.

Valencia (probable, 4-4-2): Cañizares; Angloma, Ayala, Pellegrino, Carboni; Angulo, Mendieta, Aimar, Kily Gonzalez; Carew (or Diego Alonso), Sanchez.