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Arsenal hopeful of overhauling Sevilla

sports Updated: Dec 11, 2007 19:07 IST

AFP
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After a stellar start to the season, Arsenal is in a bit of a slump.

The Gunners still lead the Premier League, but their lead has been cut to one point. And while the team has clinched a place in the next round of the Champions League, it could finish in second place Group H.

Arsenal needs to beat Steaua Bucharest at Emirates Stadium on Wednesday _ and have Sevilla lose at Slavia Prague _ to finish at the top of the group.

Second place would mean another group winner in the second round, possibly FC Barcelona, Inter Milan, AC Milan or Real Madrid. "I feel for us maybe it is not necessarily a disadvantage to play the big clubs," Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said. "At least the big clubs will play (soccer) as well."

Arsenal lost to PSV Eindhoven in the second round last season and Wenger said his team was troubled by the Dutch side's defensive tactics.

"We struggled more in that game that we had done the season before against Real Madrid," Wenger said. "Maybe when you play against Real Madrid or Barcelona, you say, 'What a (heck) of a task.' But then you face a different problem because they will come out and play.

"If we do finish second in the group, nobody would be especially keen to play against us."

Sevilla, in its first Champions League campaign after winning the last two UEFA Cups, leads the group with 12 points. Arsenal has 10 points.

Regardless of the results, Slavia Prague has already clinched third place in the group and a spot in the UEFA Cup. Arsenal lost its unbeaten Premier League record on Saturday in a 2-1 loss at Middlesbrough. Midfielders Cesc Fabregas, Mathieu Flamini, Aleksandr Hleb and Robin van Persie were all sidelined for that game, and are also in doubt for the game against Steaua and Sunday's Premier League match with Chelsea.

Sevilla will be without goalkeeper Andres Palop, who will be sidelined for up to three months after breaking his hand in his team's 3-1 win over Real Murcia in the Spanish league on Sunday. Morgan de Sanctis is likely to take his place in goal. Defender Federico Fazio will be rested, midfielders Seydou Keita and Adriano are suspended and striker Alexander Kerzhakov has a sprained knee.

After losing at Arsenal 3-0 in its opening Champions League match, Sevilla won its next four matches _ including beating the Gunners 3-1.

"Excluding the game in London, we have put fear into our opposition and fortunately we are in the next phase," Sevilla president Jose Maria del Nido. "We now have a fantastic chance to finish top of our group and we do not want to let this slip."