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Ajax sense the time is right

Published: Tuesday 27 September 2005, 16.30CET
AFC Ajax will be looking to improve on a run of one win in ten UEFA Champions League games when they welcome injury-hit Arsenal FC to Amsterdam.
by John Atkin
from Amsterdam

Tournament statistics

AjaxArsenal

Goals scored12
 
15
Attempts on target46
 
75
Attempts off target74
 
49
Corners28
 
68
Offsides26
 
35
Fouls committed125
 
197
Yellow cards10
 
17
Red cards0
2

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Published: Tuesday 27 September 2005, 16.30CET

Ajax sense the time is right

AFC Ajax will be looking to improve on a run of one win in ten UEFA Champions League games when they welcome injury-hit Arsenal FC to Amsterdam.

AFC Ajax's precocious side will be looking to end a sorry UEFA Champions League run which has delivered just a single win from their last ten games when they face Arsenal FC at the Amsterdam ArenA on Tuesday. And with the English Premiership team scrabbling for form and fit players, there can be no better time to do it.

Key absentees
Arsenal arrived for the Group B encounter without experienced heads, and without a win so far on their travels following Saturday's goalless draw at West Ham United FC. Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry and Robert Pirès all missed that fixture, and although Pirès should recover from a thigh injury, the boost is tempered by the loss of Gilberto with ankle ligament damage, while Jens Lehmann and Robin van Persie are suspended.

Sneijder doubt
Ajax coach Danny Blind has personnel problems of his own, though, with Mauro Rosales adding his name to over half-a-dozen other absentees. The Argentina forward hobbled off along with Nigel de Jong and Wesley Sneijder in Saturday's 4-1 defeat of Roda JC. Blind said of the in-form Sneijder: "He probably won't play. He might be fit for the last 20 minutes, but that's not an option for me. We have other games to come and he's important to us."

Woeful run
That Sneijder, who scored the last-gasp equaliser to secure a 1-1 draw at AC Sparta Praha on Matchday 1, has become the lynchpin of Ajax's team this season, is a reflection of changing times in Amsterdam. The four-time European champions managed a solitary victory in last year's group stage, against Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC, and events inside the ArenA have quickly begun to mirror the extensive building work occurring outside it.

Youthful revolution
Ronald Koeman departed in March, with former youth coach Blind taking over and seeking to hasten the emergence of a new generation of Dutch players. Hedwiges Maduro, Johnny Heitinga, De Jong, Sneijder and Ryan Babel - all 21 or under - have enjoyed a regular run in the side this term, and Blind is confident they can rise to the task, although he played down the suggestion that Arsenal's injuries make this a great opportunity.

Henry missed
"It's our second match in the Champions League, and the first home game, so it's important we don't lose," he said. "But Arsenal are a good team with a large squad of quality players, and although several are doubtful we have the same situation. Having said that, Henry is a very good player and Arsenal will miss him."

Reyes responsibility
No one will be more aware of that than Arsène Wenger, and with his Dutch duo of Bergkamp and Van Persie sidelined, the onus falls on the shoulders of Reyes with Fredrik Ljungberg offering support just behind. Despite the lack of orthodox strikers, the Arsenal manager is targeting victory. "It's important to go into the game with a positive attitute," he said. "We're not used to going out there and trying for anything but a win."

Owusu-Abeyie call-up
And on an evening that could showcase plenty of fresh Dutch talent, Arsenal may field their own Amsterdam-born starlet in the form of Quincy Owusu-Abeyie. The 19-year-old is in line for a rare start should Pirès fail in his fitness bid. "I will have a chat with Pirès and see how he feels," said Wenger. "But if he isn't fit then it will be Quincy - he's a very talented young player." Nor is he likely to be the only one on show.

Last updated: 27/09/05 9.52CET

http://www.uefa.com/uefachampionsleague/season=2005/matches/round=2201/match=1100269/prematch/preview/index.html#ajax+sense+time+right

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