Wenger to gamble on attacking strategy

Arsenal must cover defensive absences as they face freezing conditions and Russian champions in hot form
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The Independent Football

Like some latterday Napoleon, Arsenal's Arsÿne Wenger is demanding that his troops disregard discomfort and adversity by going on the attack in thebitterly cold Russian capital this evening. Against Spartak Moscow they certainly need to show greater determination in unfriendly conditions than was apparent several hundred miles away in the Ukraine a fortnight ago, when some of the regulars showed no stomach for the battle and were routed 3-0 bya more committed Shakhtar Donetsk.

Like some latterday Napoleon, Arsenal's Arsÿne Wenger is demanding that his troops disregard discomfort and adversity by going on the attack in thebitterly cold Russian capital this evening. Against Spartak Moscow they certainly need to show greater determination in unfriendly conditions than was apparent several hundred miles away in the Ukraine a fortnight ago, when some of the regulars showed no stomach for the battle and were routed 3-0 bya more committed Shakhtar Donetsk.

The extenuating factor on that occasion was Arsenal's knowledge that they would finish on top of their Champions' League group whatever the result.

This time, playing in the second phase for the first time, they cannot afford to lose their opening game, but do not want to risk sitting back either. "If I'd have left the choice to the players for the Ukraine, I'd have travelled alone," Wenger said. "Tonight that's not the case, because everyone knows what's at stake. We have to try to get forward. They're a typical Russian team with good passing, very mobile, who like to play through you. On their day they can beat anyone. If we try only to defend, we've got no chance."

Dennis Bergkamp, the suspended Gilles Grimandi and the injured Patrick Vieira and David Seaman have once again stayed at home, and players carrying minor injuries include Lee Dixon, Tony Adams and Silvinho. Wenger cleared those three last night, but admits to being worried by the loss of his countrymen Grimandi and Vieira, who would have formed his preferred partnership in central midfield.

"Without them, we will try to compensate by getting the other players to work hard," Wenger added. Nelson Vivas will fill one of the gaps as Ray Parlour's partner. Wenger is also putting his faith in Seaman's deputy, Alex Manninger, "a young goalkeeper with a huge responsibility" and Adams, who he believes should remain the captain of England.

A surprise £1.6m signing from the Swiss club Lugano soon after the 1998 World Cup finals in France, Vivas has never established himself at Highbury, where he has played full-back and even centre-back in emergencies. Vivas was farmed out on loan to the Spanish club Celta Vigo for a large chunk of last season, but came back in August and has since then made four first-team starts, earning a sign of Wenger's approval when he was made captain of the under-strength side that lost a Worthington Cup tie to Ipswich.

In contrast to the London side, who have dropped five Premiership points in their most recent matches, against Derby and Everton, Spartak have just romped to their fifth successive Russian championship and eighth in nine seasons. Popular throughout the Communist era for standing up to clubs run by the KGB and the Army, like Moscow Dynamo and CSKA, they now claim to be fighting for Russian football at large. Oleg Romantsev, the coach, said yesterday: "At stake is not only Spartak's reputation but the prestige of the whole of Russian football." He should know. As well as being coach and president of Spartak - a sort of super Ron Noades - he runs the national team as well.

Adding to the spin, perhaps in honour of Tony Blair's presence here yesterday, Romantsev's assistant, Vyacheslav Drosny, said: "If the frost strikes, Spartak won't be afraid, but Arsenal will. We're used to anything."

If temperatures stay the right side of freezing for kick-off at 8pm local time (1700 GMT), the danger at the splendidly renovated Luzhniki Stadium will be from good old-fashioned mud.

Before the game, Moscow Dynamo's momentous visit to Britain 55 years ago will be commemorated with an indoor veterans' match between a 1980s English squad including Ray Wilkins, Phil Neal, Neil Webb and Gary Mabbutt and their Soviet counterparts, probably featuring Alexei Mikhailichenko and Igor Belanov. They will certainly have the better playing surface.

Spartak Moscow (probable, 1-3-3-1-2) Filimonov; Ananko; Parfionov, Tchuise, Kovtun; Barenov, Bulatov, Bezrodnyi; Titov; Marcao, Robson.

Arsenal (probable, 4-4-2): Manninger; Dixon, Keown, Adams, Silvinho; Ljungberg, Parlour, Vivas, Pires; Henry, Kanu.

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