French relief for depleted Arsenal

European Champions' League: Gunners go to Kiev without Bergkamp as Brondby brace themselves for Old Trafford
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The Independent Online
AN ABDOMINAL injury to Marc Overmars has inflicted even greater potential damage to Arsenal's hopes of prising a result from their European Champions' League match again Dynamo Kiev tonight than the absence of those other linchpins, Tony Adams and Dennis Bergkamp.

Steve Bould is a doughty and experienced replacement for Adams as both centre-half and captain; Bergkamp, despite his headed goal in the fortunate 1-1 draw at Wembley last month, has been a peripheral figure in the three European games so far and was never expected to play here anyway - a back injury having scuppered any wild notions of making the 2,500-mile journey on land.

Using Overmars, with his pace and scoring ability, to partner Nicolas Anelka in attack proved an excellent solution at Coventry on Saturday, but after setting up the winning goal for Anelka with a characteristic dash, the Dutchman suffered a strain from which he has not recovered. Now Arsene Wenger must decide whether to go against his natural inclinations, or push either Christopher Wreh or Luis Boa Morte into their first Champions' League match.

"I don't usually like playing with only one man up because it makes you too defensive," Wenger said yesterday. "Wreh and Boa Morte are both international players and Wreh can hold the ball up and play a little like Bergkamp. In the Champions' League the quality is higher and you can't just defend.

"We showed last season that we can be successful without important players, so I'm not too worried. I'm an optimist and I believe in our players."

The manager has always been a believer in his fellow countrymen, Emmanuel Petit and Patrick Vieira, whose return in the centre of midfield is a reason for relief, if not outright optimism. At Wembley Stephen Hughes and Remi Garde looked like virgin soldiers in that battle zone as strikers Andriy Shevchenko and Sergiy Rebrov pulled out wide and the shock troops flooded through the middle.

Even Bould, veteran of more than 300 Arsenal matches, will not find it easy to cope, though he and Martin Keown should be better protected this time. Aged 35 in two weeks' time, the admirable Bould is determined to enjoy every game, especially at this exalted level, while keeping his feet as firmly as ever on the ground. That is where he would prefer to have kept them yesterday, after admitting to being a member of Arsenal's fear-of-flying club.

"I can understand how Dennis [Bergkamp] feels," he said. "It's not easy. I'm a terrible flyer and I try to sit as far away as possible from Stephen Hughes, who is also bad."

Defeat could have serious consequences, even hurtling Arsenal from top to bottom of the group, if combined with a narrow victory for Panathinaikos, at home to second-placed Lens. Wenger's revised estimation is that nine points should ensure qualification. His team would have reached that mark already - however undeservedly - but for goals conceded in stoppage time to Kiev and Lens.

Since the first game, Dynamo have edged closer to a sixth successive Ukrainian championship. Tonight's match will be their 96th in the European Cup and 156th overall in Europe, and as former Cup-Winners' Cup holders and European Cup semi-finalists (twice each), they are entitled to feel aggrieved at having had to play two qualifying rounds, starting against Barry Town.

Being ignored - like the rest of eastern Europe - by super league plotters, is another cause for grievance, though attendances as low as 1,000 for home league matches do not help their cause. Up to 80 times that number are expected this evening. All the old Arsenal qualities will be required to survive it.