Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Arsenal Face The First Challenge in the Season

LONDON - Steve McClaren's experience as England manager may not be of much use to him when his FC Twente team takes on Arsenal when qualifying for the Champions League continues this week.

McClaren watched countless Premier League matches during his 16 months in charge of his country but not much of his time was spent mulling Arsenal since the Gunners have few English players in their first-team squad.

Only winger Theo Walcott is likely to be wholly familiar to the Englishman when the Dutch club he joined in June hosts Arsenal in one of Wednesday's 15 third qualifying round matches.

McClaren hasn't sounded entirely confident of beating an Arsenal side that reached the Champions League final just two years ago and finished third in last season's Premier League after producing some of the most thrilling football in English topflight history.

Twente isn't expected to do much in Europe and, even with the riches on offer to the 32 teams who make the Champions League group stages, McClaren seems to be looking at the match more for what it means to the club's season as a whole.

Twente has never won the Dutch league, which is traditionally dominated by PSV Eindhoven, Ajax and Feyenoord, and counts just two Dutch Cups as its major honours. So McClaren is hoping a match against the likes of Emmanuel Adebayor, Robin Van Persie and Cesc Fabregas could help lift his players for the coming domestic season.

"Playing Arsenal will be a great experience for the players and if they don't become better players after playing against Arsenal, they shouldn't be in football," McClaren said. "That's how you learn. That's how you grow and playing against one of the best teams in Europe, obviously the players will grow from that."

But a win against Arsenal would go some way to rehabilitating McClaren's reputation, even if the Gunners did overturn any deficit in the second leg on Aug. 27.

Arsenal, though, is a Champions League regular and is likely to be too strong for a team making its tournament debut after winning last season's Dutch league playoff.

With Abou Diaby injured, Denilson could play in central midfield alongside Fabregas - who starred in Spain's Euro 2008 final win over Germany - after the pair impressed together in a pre-season friendly against Sevilla.

"You need a run of games to see if it will work, but I am confident it will," Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said of the partnership.

Wenger added that he had been too busy to buy the extra midfielder he says he needs since the out-of-contract Mathieu Flamini opted to join AC Milan in the off-season.

"We are a body short, but it is not necessarily to play alongside Cesc. He can play alongside anybody," Wenger said. "We try to find the right player. My target is always to spend the right money on the right player, therefore the timing on your buy is also important as well."

No comments:

Post a Comment