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Wenger raises the stakes

Published: Tuesday 10 December 2002, 20.44CET
Arsenal FC want revenge, but Valencia CF insist they can win the battle of Highbury.
Published: Tuesday 10 December 2002, 20.44CET

Wenger raises the stakes

Arsenal FC want revenge, but Valencia CF insist they can win the battle of Highbury.

By Patrick Hart

Arsenal FC will want revenge for the defeat Arsène Wenger rates as his biggest managerial upset when the English champions face UEFA Champions League Group B rivals Valencia CF at Highbury on Tuesday evening.

'We're not sharp enough'
Wenger considers the Gunners' quarter-final loss to Valencia in the 2000/01 campaign as a "bigger disappointment" even than their UEFA Cup final defeat against Galatasaray SK the previous May. However, if the Frenchman is to prevail over his old nemesis, he must lift a side still licking its wounds after Saturday's 2-0 Premiership reverse at Manchester United FC. "I think we had a good warning of how much other teams want to beat us," Wenger said. "As a team we were not sharp enough, but this time we will be much more on our toes."

Vieira injury worry
Arsenal go into the game as group leaders, having beaten AS Roma on Matchday Seven. If they can add to that win against Valencia, they will enter the winter break with a five-point lead over Rafael Benítez's men. Goalkeeper David Seaman has recovered from a groin problem to take over from the injured Rami Shaaban, but captain Patrick Vieira is doubtful with a thigh strain suffered at Old Trafford. Meanwhile, Dennis Bergkamp, a weekend substitute, could start, with fellow strikers Nwankwo Kanu and Francis Jeffers struggling with knee and ankle injuries.

'We want the points'
The main casualty for a Valencia side held at home by AFC Ajax last time out is goalkeeper Santiago Cañizares. The Spanish international damaged knee ligaments in the recent league match at Deportivo Alavés, and missed the subsequent 2-0 win against Racing Santander which maintained the Mestalla club's second place in the Primera División. Not that coach Benítez is too worried ahead of this meeting of domestic champions. "You always have to respect your opponents, but we are not scared of Arsenal, not at all," he said. "You have to go out to win, and that is the way I approach every game. We want to get the three points."

Aimar returns
Valencia are boosted by the presence of Pablo Aimar, who returned from a muscle problem to good effect against Racing. Midfield player Francisco Rufete is also back after injury, but striker Mista misses out along with long-term absentee Kily González. The Ches also have history on their side. As well as ousting Arsenal two seasons ago, they defeated the Londoners in the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup final of 1979/80 in a penalty shootout. And in his eve-of-match comments, captain Roberto Ayala insisted an away victory "would not be a huge surprise": "We know that it is difficult to win there - but it is not impossible."

Last updated: 10/12/02 20.40CET

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