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Arsenal face 'moment of truth'

Published: Monday 10 March 2003, 21.05CET
Arsène Wenger has raised the temperature ahead of Arsenal FC's crucial tie against AS Roma.

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Published: Monday 10 March 2003, 21.05CET

Arsenal face 'moment of truth'

Arsène Wenger has raised the temperature ahead of Arsenal FC's crucial tie against AS Roma.

By Trevor Haylett

Arsène Wenger raised the temperature ahead of Arsenal FC's UEFA Champions League encounter with AS Roma at Highbury by saying that the "moment of truth" has arrived for his team as they seek to prove they have the necessary qualities to rule Europe as well as England.

Finely balanced group
Group B is finely balanced with all four combatants going into Matchday 11 still harbouring hopes of reaching the quarter-finals. However, victories for Arsenal and AFC Ajax in their home games on Tuesday would be enough to instantly kill off the challenge of both Roma and Valencia CF.

Roma confidence high
Wenger is expecting a different game to the meeting between the two sides in the Stadio Olimpico on Matchday Seven when a Thierry Henry hat-trick secured a 3-1 win for the Gunners. Roma followed that performance with two further defeats but an impressive 3-0 victory away to Valencia two weeks ago indicates that their confidence will be high tomorrow.

Henry concerns
Henry trained yesterday after weekend concerns surrounding a calf injury which forced him to come off the pitch during Saturday's 2-2 FA Cup quarter-final draw with Chelsea FC. "Thierry absolutely wanted to train today to see how he reacted to the injury" said Wenger. "He did a normal session."

Defensive doubts
Of greater concern to Wenger is the availability of first-choice central defenders Martin Keown and Sol Campbell, who both missed training on Monday with calf and achilles problems respectively. "I'm a slight doubt but I've got another 24 hours," said a hopeful Campbell.

Blow to Capello
Henry's inclusion will be a blow to Roma coach Fabio Capello who says of the Frenchman: "He's got fantasy and quality in his game, he's a great player. In the previous game we had plans to keep a close eye on Henry, but he had an excellent game."

Still to catch fire
The English title holders have still to catch fire over a sustained period in Europe this season, having won just once in their last seven fixtures. It hardly smacks of championship form yet Capello calls them the "strongest team in Europe" and Wenger remains sanguine. "Our group [of players] have grown together and they care a lot about the Champions League," he said. "Now is a good opportunity to show it - we have certainly acquired enough experience to win the competition. This is a turning point, a moment of truth. I have great belief in my squad and I am convinced you will see a top-level Arsenal team tomorrow."

'Favourable time'
Roma followed up their success in Spain with a Serie A victory over Empoli FC and secured a draw in the Rome derby with S.S. Lazio on Saturday thanks to a late equaliser from Antonio Cassano. "We are now getting the results we want so it is a favourable time for us," Capello added. "Tomorrow we expect to win and to get three points. A draw might leave us with some chance of qualifying but I'm only thinking about one thing: victory."

Last updated: 11/03/03 21.28CET