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Finishing third in 1996 and upsetting Internazionale to win the Uefa Cup the following season interrupted a long run of

Posted on 29 August 2010

Finishing third in 1996 and upsetting Internazionale to win the Uefa Cup the following season interrupted a long run of mid-table mediocrity, which two years ago almost slid into something worse, as relegation was avoided by only two places.Huub Stevens, the Dutchman taken on as coach five years ago, brought about such an astonishing improvement last season that Schalke finished their final match convinced they had won a first Bundesliga title; Bayern Munich, their only rivals, were losing 1-0 in Hamburg, but scrambled an equalising goal four minutes into stoppage time to leave their president, Franz Beckenbauer, admitting: “It’s miracle.”At least the runners-up position guaranteed a first shot at the Champions’ League, though that finished in the anti-climax of the Panathinaikos match. After a first half in which Schalke’s pacy forwards, with the experienced Andy M?r just behind them, were unable to create a decent chance, the home side, urged on by an impatient crowd of 52,000, lost their discipline and were caught out on the counterattack twice in the last 15 minutes.Wenger believes that, despite the gifts given to the Greeks, Schalke are “a very strong side, very fast up front”. He anticipates that Tony Adams will be available after missing the game in Majorca, when Sol Campbell was not as steady as expected alongside Martin Keown. The fixtures are piling up, which makes France’s insistence on following their recent long-haul trip to Chile with another friendly in Australia, on 11 November, all the more irritating for clubs such as Arsenal, and a little embarrassing for Wenger.”We don’t want to fight with the French Football Federation, but we want them to know there’s a problem,” he said. “Of the four players who went to Chile, three came back sick and all of them were tired and not in the best shape for a very important game. They could limit the number of players from each club, but if Fifa insist, what can we do? The cheats will stay at home and the honest ones will go.”. It was appropriate that there should be a Gallic flourish to decide this predominantly Anglo-French encounter.

It was appropriate that there should be a Gallic flourish to decide the predominantly Anglo-French encounter down by the riverside yesterday afternoon. Candidates to provide it included Fulham’s outstanding player Steed Malbranque ­ who had earlier scored an equaliser to bring his team back into the game ­ Sylvain Legwinski and the late substitute Steve Marlet. But, with Patrick Vieira driving Arsenal on as usual, it was Thierry Henry who claimed the decisive goal eight minutes from the finish. That effectively ended the home side’s bold recovery, and another Frenchman Sylvain Wiltord even set up a rather flattering third goal in stoppage time for Dennis Bergkamp.

Victory was sufficient to send Arsenal to the top of the Premiership, giving Ars? Wenger reason to believe his team can improve on their run of three successive seasons as runners-up. An additional bonus was to improve self-belief after the flaccid defeat in Majorca last week for Wednesday’s second Champions’ League match against Schalke 04. Francis Jeffers, making a lively full debut, did his prospects of starting in that game no harm, but Wenger may be tempted to tighten the defence by reuniting Tony Adams with Martin Keown; Sol Campbell, Tottenham fans will be delighted to learn, has not yet settled in his new habitat. Fulham need not be overly discouraged, and having won only one of their first five matches will be a useful reminder to supporters spoilt by four years of almost unbroken success that not even Mohamed Al Fayed’s millions have yet bridged the gap behind the best teams. Central defence is the area that appears to be in greatest need of strengthening next, though Jean Tigana may be prepared to wait for Alain Goma to recover from a hip injury.

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