Vieira gamble 'not the best decision'

By Jason Burt
Wednesday 11 December 2002 01:00

The Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, admitted last night that playing his captain Patrick Vieira was a risk that had backfired. The price of the Frenchman helping him to secure a point in last night's Champions' League game is that he will miss this weekend's north London derby against Tottenham. Vieira was substituted after just 38 minutes when he limped off the pitch with a thigh strain.

Wenger said the decision to play Vieira had been made only after the warm-up, minutes before the game started. "Patrick was insistent he played because he said he felt good. It's strange because the injury he suffered is on the other leg to the one he hurt," Wenger said.

Vieira had been doubtful after straining a thigh muscle in his right leg in training on Monday. He had been rated as 60-40 against playing but his importance to Arsenal was underlined by Wenger's willingness to risk further injury. The Arsenal manager said: "I took the gamble to take him off if he didn't feel good in the warm-up, but he felt good so that's all you can want. Now it does not appear to have been the best decision.

"It's strange that he injured his leg on the other side but in exactly the same place and in the same muscle. Maybe he was over-protecting his leg. I took the same gamble in Rome, though, with Oleg Luzhny and it worked. You have to accept it when you take these kind of decisions.

He added: "Psychologically Patrick has such an influence on the team." Wenger said he hoped to learn today for how long Vieira would now be out.

The Arsenal manager said the result and Ajax's 2-1 home victory over Roma left Group B wide open, but he added: "We expect to go through. We are in a good position but it will be a big fight to the end in this group." He said he was not concerned by the fact that Arsenal had only won one of their four home games in this season's Champions' League. "We know we can win away from home."

Valencia, he said, were very difficult opponents "who know how to foul intelligently" and break up Arsenal's play. "We looked solid defensively and dangerous going forward. I think the team deserves a lot of credit – as did their goalkeeper. It is frustrating as we looked like we were going to score at any moment but they are calm in defence and did well."

Rafael Benitez, the Valencia coach, who won the Spanish League in his first season in charge, expressed surprise at the sending-off of the midfielder Miguel Angulo for a straight red card. "I think everyone was greatly surprised by this sending-off," he said. "We will have to see it again in slow motion."

Benitez said his team had been comfortable until then. "This is a very satisfactory point, with all the difficulties we had here," he admitted. "Arsenal are a very useful team."

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