Seaman returns as Arsenal faces Valencia

updated: February 25, 2007 09:28 IST
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Veteran England goalkeeper David Seaman returns to the Arsenal lineup to face Valencia in the Champions League on Tuesday, but French midfielder Patrick Vieira is doubtful after suffering a leg muscle injury in training Monday. While Seaman's return avoids a goalkeeping headache for Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, Vieira's likely absence is a major blow. Wenger said Vieira is only 40-60 to face Valencia in a matchup between two champions which have never won European soccer's biggest prize. "Seaman will play tomorrow and looks quite fit," Wenger said. "We have a problem with Patrick Vieira who had muscular damage in training and had to leave training today. I'm not sure he will play tomorrow." With a recent reputation for blunders rather than great saves, the 39-year-old Seaman has missed three matches because of a groin injury, including Saturday's 2-0 loss to Premier League rival Manchester United. Seaman was ridiculed for letting a matchwinning 35-yard free kick from Brazil's Ronaldinho float over his head at the World Cup and then failing to catch an inswinging corner from Macedonia's Artim Shakiri for another goal in a Euro 2004 qualifier. Seaman came through a practice game without any problems on Saturday. His replacement, Swedish 'keeper Sami Shaaban, is sidelined after suffering a thigh injury. The Gunners badly need a fit Seaman to face Valencia, which is currently rated the hottest club in Europe. Valencia has imaginative forward Pablo Aimar available but is still without goalkeeper Santiago Canizares and Argentina midfielder Kily Gonzalez, who are both injured. Coach Rafa Benitez' team moved up to second in the Spanish league by beating Racing Santander on Saturday. But it needs to improve in the Champions League after being held 1-1 at home by Ajax Amsterdam when the second round began two weeks ago. "We can't wait for this match against Arsenal because we have to get a good result after the draw at home against Ajax," said Valencia's Italian defender Amedeo Carboni. "But I'm not sure if Arsenal is the easiest team to do it against." The other Group B game is Ajax vs. AS Roma. The Italians are missing two injured stars, midfielder Damiano Tommasi and striker Marco Delvecchio. Experienced defender Christian Panucci is another doubt after suffering a back injury in Saturday's 1-0 loss at AC Milan but he travels to Amsterdam in the hope of playing. Four-time winner Ajax is going through an injury crisis, with star midfielder Rafael van der Vaart tearing a muscle in his right thigh during Saturday's disappointing 1-1 tie with De Graafschap Doetinschem. Australian goalkeeper Joey Didulica hopes to play despite a hip injury, while forward Viktor Sikora needed a scan on Monday to determine the seriousness of a knee injury suffered in the same game. Finnish striker Jari Litmanen also is sidelined, while team captain Christian Chivu is suspended after picking up a yellow card against Valencia. In Group A, Bobby Robson goes to Barcelona aiming to end his former club's 100 percent record in the competition. That looks unlikely to happen. His Newcastle team was outplayed 4-1 at home by Inter Milan two weeks ago and goes to the Camp Nou without star strikers Alan Shearer and Craig Bellamy, who are suspended. Shola Ameobi and Lomana LuaLua are their likely replacements, but 19-year-old Portuguese star Hugo Viana is another absentee after dislocating his shoulder in training last week. "We know it's going to be a tough game," said Robson, who team lost 3-0 at home to Barcelona in a pre-season friendly. "We had a hard time against them at the start of the season, but we can do much better than that and we're not afraid of anything or anyone. Respectful, yes, but not frightened." Robson will receive a warm welcome from the Camp Nou fans. He coached Barcelona to three titles -- the Cup Winners Cup, the Spanish Cup and the Spanish Super Cup -- in the 1996-97 season. He also finished second in the league to Real Madrid, securing a place in the Champions League. It's likely Robson will get a better reception than Barcelona's current manager, Louis van Gaal. His team lies 10th in the Spanish league and lost 1-0 to lowly Rayo Vallecano on Saturday. Still, Barca is the only one of the 16 Champions League survivors to win all seven group games so far. "I feel great," Van Gaal told reporters during the buildup to the game. "Maybe I won't change your opinion, but I feel I am the best coach for Barcelona right now as I know the players. I don't think the directors would take a fair and intelligent decision if they sacked me." Hitting back for a 3-3 tie with Lazio on Saturday, Inter Milan hopes to maintain its scoring streak at home to last season's Champions League runner up, Bayer Leverkusen. Christian Vieri and Hernan Crespo will be supported by Turkish forward Emre Belozoglu, who netted twice against Lazio. In Wednesday's games, Italian league leader AC Milan goes to Borussia Dortmund, while Real Madrid, a record nine-time winner of Europe's most prestigious prize, hosts Lokomotiv Moscow in the other Group C game. Group D leader Manchester United aims to follow up its win at FC Basel with a home win over Deportivo de La Coruna. The Swiss team goes to Italian champion Juventus. (AP)