By Ken Martin
While Arsenal FC may have a fight on their hands to bury their UEFA Champions League demons next season, midfield player Giovanni van Bronckhorst faces his own personal battle in 2003/04.
Arriving at Highbury from Rangers FC in June 2001, a potentially career-threatening injury denied the Dutch international a place in the Arsenal lineup, and he is now desperate to get back into contention. "My objective for next season is to play more games and have more of an impact on the team than I have had over the last year," he told uefa.com.
It was a major blow when the 28-year-old fell awkwardly and damaged cruciate ligaments during a 4-1 win against Fulham FC in February 2002. But having enlisted the help of top surgeon Dr Richard Steadman - the man who saved the career of Ruud van Nistelrooij - Van Bronckhorst returned to the top flight last November.
Often deployed as a stand-in left back, Van Bronckhorst has yet to replicate the goalscoring of his Rangers and Feyenoord days, but is happy to play out of position if the need arises. "It doesn't bother me at all if that is the position that the coach wants to play me in," he said. "What you always have to remember is that it is a team game and I'm happy for the team anywhere I'm needed."
Van Bronckhorst quashed any rumours that he will leave the club in search of first-team football this summer, despite talk of a possible reunion with former Feyenoord team-mate Henrik Larsson at Celtic FC. "The first I heard of it was while I was on holiday in Marbella a few weeks ago when a Celtic fan came up to me and said 'Are you signing for us?" he laughed.
"I loved my time at Rangers, and I'm very proud of the part I have played in their history," he added. "
I am still a Rangers fan, and I always look for their results. I would find it very strange ever to play against Rangers, and I certainly couldn't do that for Celtic."
Van Bronckhorst was reunited with his old Rangers coach Dick Advocaat once more as he featured in the Netherlands' 2-0 UEFA EURO 2004™ qualifying victory against Belarus last month, and he is hoping there will be plenty more nights of international football to come.
"Being part of the international setup is very important to me, and that is another reason I want to play as much football as I can next year," he said. "It will be a very important year for the Dutch team. We want to put the disappointment of not making the last [FIFA] World Cup behind us, and qualify for the [UEFA] European Championship."
Although his career at Highbury has not gone to plan, Van Bronckhorst remains optimistic about his future. "
Without a doubt next year is going to be an exciting one for Arsenal and I want more than anything to be a part of that," he said.
Having failed to make their mark in the UEFA Champions League last season, the Dutchman and his team-mates do not lack motivation. "There's a real hunger at Arsenal to live up to our potential in this tournament and I think we have learned some valuable lessons from this season," he said. "We know we are good enough to win this trophy; we now have to make that happen."
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