PSV, Arsenal to clash

Dutch side PSV Eindhoven are inching closer to qualifying from the group stage of the UEFA Champions League.

updated: February 25, 2007 10:04 IST
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Eindhoven, Netherlands:

Dutch side PSV Eindhoven are inching closer to qualifying from the group stage of the UEFA Champions League for the first time at the eighth consecutive time of asking. Guus Hiddink's PSV side, who have never survived the first round of the Champions League in seven previous attempts, are currently firing on all cylinders. They have a big lead at the top of the Dutch League and three consecutive Champions League wins under their belt. PSV lead Group E with nine points, three ahead of their English opponents. Then come Greece's Panathinaikos with five and Rosenborg of Norway bring up the rear with just one. Stuttered badly So the pressure is all on Arsenal, who had their 49-match English Premiership unbeaten run ended by Manchester United last month. Since then, they've stuttered badly. The latest setback came at home to lowly West Bromwich on Saturday, a game which eventually ended in a one-all draw after Arsenal had taken the lead early on in the second half. On the other hand, the Dutch side have won all three games since losing at Arsenal's Highbury ground earlier in the competition, and are unbeaten at home in their last eight European matches at the Philips Stadium. Furthermore, they've been in flying form in the Dutch league too, winning eight of their last nine games, and keeping a clean sheet in each of their last six fixtures in all competitions. Experienced midfielder Phillip Cocu - in his second spell at PSV, punctuated by a six-year stint at Barcelona - is wary, however, of the threat Arsenal could pose if they hit form. "They have such a terrific selection that they will form a terrific team anyway. We have to be very aware though as we've experienced during the other game (with Arsenal) that one moment can be fatal and I think we can expect a similar game tomorrow," said PSV midfielder Phillip Cocu. Raring form Cocu's midfield partner, Mark van Bommel, is at the top of his form and is a transfer target for Spanish giants Real Madrid. He's equally cautious about approaching the match with too much confidence despite the disparity in the two sides' form going into the encounter. "Arsenal is simply a great club but not really in great shape at the moment but with such qualities that one or two players are able to determine the whole match and we have to avoid one moment that would turn out fatal," said PSV midfielder Mark van Bommel. With PSV so close to reaching the second stage for the first time, there's little chance of the team approaching the match with any less than steely determination. And with leaders of the calibre of Cocu and Van Bommel on the pitch and coach Hiddink off it, the Dutch supporters can be sure there will be no feet coming off the pedal on the eve of such possible historic progress. Coach confident As for Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger, if was nervous ahead of the game, he certainly wasn't showing it when he met the press on Tuesday afternoon. "Well, I must say I am always happy before a big game, because I have complete confidence in my players, and I always expect a lot from them, and I must say I'm certainly never disappointed, so I'm just happy to play a big game," said Wenger. Following PSV coach Guus Hiddink's emphatic rebuttal of accusations of racism on the part of PSV supporters earlier in the day, the issue was raised at Wenger's press conference. Whilst not denying that there was a debate about the problem in football in general at present, the Arsenal coach refused to specifically link it to Wednesday's match. "It is at the moment an issue that I do not want to deny because there we have, of course, to kick any hostile and any racist reaction out of any football pitch but I don't see that that could be a problem here in Eindhoven," said Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger Good news for Wenger is that England central defender Sol Campbell could return after missing the last five games because of an Achilles tendon injury. His deputy, Pascal Cygan, scored an own goal in Arsenal's last Champions League match, a 2-2 draw at home to Panathinaikos. But the Brazilians Edu and Gilberto Silva are definitely out injured. (AP)