ARSENE WENGER may have a week off from club duties, but he will be keeping a close eye on the international scene in the next few days with so many of our players involved with their countries.

No fewer than 11 first-team stars are away on international duty, with four Gunners selected in the senior England squad and three more challenging for a place in England's Under-21 team that plays against Germany tonight.

Wenger will perhaps be most worried, though, about his quartet of French players - Thierry Henry, Sylvain Wiltord, Patrick Vieira and Robert Pires - who have all travelled to Chile for a friendly in Santiago.

All four are expected to feature in South America, before enduring a long journey back to Europe early next week ahead of the crunch Premiership clash against Chelsea next Saturday.

French compatriot Bixente Lizarazu admits that it can take some time to recuperate after such a long trip, but is confident the players can cope.

"You can't recover very quickly after 14 or 15 hours on a plane," he says. "But you try to adapt as much as possible and we make long journeys with our clubs in Europe so we are already quite used to it.

"It's OK once in a while, but it would be very hard to do this once a month.

"I think of the South American players in Europe who make a journey like this every month and it cannot be easy."

Giovanni van Bronckhorst has a much shorter trip as the Dutch take on the Republic of Ireland in Dublin before playing Estonia on Wednesday, while Freddie Ljungberg's Sweden face Macedonia and Turkey.

Oleg Luzhny is expected to line up for Ukraine against Belarus tomorrow and then face Armenia next midweek.

Alex Manninger, meanwhile, who is currently on loan at Fiorentina, is insisting there will not be a repeat of Austria's nightmare defeat to Spain the last time the two sides met in Valencia.

Manninger is likely to start Saturday's game, having been on the bench as Spain smashed nine goals past his nation in the previous clash two years ago.

"Spain wouldn't put nine goals past me even if I was sleeping," he said.

"I'm convinced it won't happen again. The last match was an anomaly and it will be decades before it is repeated."

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31 Aug 2001