Wenger's nagging worry

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The Independent Online

As the Arsenal directors broke out the champagne on the way back from France in the early hours of yesterday morning a nagging worry kept intruding on the celebration of the team's impressive Champions' League victory over Olympique Lyonnnais.

As the Arsenal directors broke out the champagne on the way back from France in the early hours of yesterday morning a nagging worry kept intruding on the celebration of the team's impressive Champions' League victory over Olympique Lyonnnais.

That was the concern that the architect of Tuesday night's win, and much else besides in the last five seasons at Highbury, might not be with them much longer. Arsÿne Wenger made it clear before the tie that, if the current dispute between the football authorities and the European Union over players' contracts is not solved to his satisfaction, he will quit club management. Yesterday Dennis Hill-Wood, the Arsenal chairman, confirmed that it was no idle threat and admitted: "I wouldn't blame him."

Hill-Wood added: "I can understand why Arsÿne wants to walk out. He has worked hard in his time here. He is building a great team and he could see it all taken away because of the bureaucrats. He has made his position clear to us. We all know where we stand.

"I really don't know what we will do if Arsÿne leaves. It is not a question we want to think about but we might have to. He will not be easy to replace."

The chairman added: "It is a worrying time but not just for Arsenal. It is worrying for the whole of football. A lot of clubs could find themselves in our position. It is going to destroy the game and who knows how bad the consequences will be.

"Why these politicians have got involved is beyond me. If it ain't broke don't fix it. We didn't think it was broke."

The uncertainty adds to Arsenal's desire to go as far as they can this season and their chances of reaching the quarter-finals of the European Cup for the first time since 1972, when they lost to the eventual winners Ajax, were significantly enhanced on Tuesday. In a departure from the norm this season it was Arsenal's opponents who made and missed the bulk of the chances while the Gunners showed the clinical edge.

It was not just Thierry Henry's goal which encouraged Wenger. He also felt the way the player held and shielded the ball showed he was over any lingering concern about his ankle injury. Nwankwo Kanu, though again failing to score, was an equally selfless front-runner as Arsenal successfully sought to make the most of limited opportunity. The job is only half-done though and, while Arsenal will start favourites, the speed and mobility of Lyon's forward line means a repeat victory, in the Highbury return on Wednesday, cannot be assumed.

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