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Football: IT'S NOW OR NEVER SAYS DEN; Bergkamp title warning.

Byline: ED CASEY

DENNIS BERGKAMP last night warned it is now or never for in-form Arsenal's Premiership title chasers after claiming they will never have a better chance of winning the Treble.

The 32-year-old Dutchman, who is enjoying a huge career revival, has backed manager Arsene Wenger's belief that the current squad is better than the 1998 double- winning squad.

And Bergkamp firmly believes they can go one better this season and emulate Manchester United's glorious Treble of three years ago by winning the Premiership, FA Cup and Champions League.

Bergkamp said: "If you look at the team and all the quality we have it'll be such a pity if we don't win anything.

"If we don't win anything with this team, I don't see it happening with other teams. We are all at the peak of our careers and we have a great chance.

"We are in March and still in three competitions so hopefully we can do it.

"It's hard to say whether this is a better team than when we won the Double but if we don't win anything no one will speak of this team and they will always speak of the Double team.

"I feel you can only compare the sides when you actually win something and then you can see if this is a better team.

Brilliant

"Overall you would say with the players we have and the competitions we are in - we are still in every competition at the highest level - that this would be a better team."

Bergkamp's career revival has also coincided with Arsenal's brilliant recent surge which has seen them enjoy a 17-game unbeaten run that has propelled them towards the title, FA Cup and Champions League.

But the next week could define their whole season as they face Newcastle in the FA Cup quarter-finals on Saturday and then can book their Champions League last-eight place against Deportivo La Coruna three days later.

Bergkamp is clearly relishing his new-found form and admits for the first time that he can now understand Wenger's decision to rotate the squad and leave him on the bench so much earlier in the campaign.

It is almost as if Bergkamp has been unleashed on the Premiership just at the right time to lead the championship charge when you consider his outstanding strikes at Newcastle and against Bayer Leverkusen.

Bergkamp said: "I do think that it's going well for me now.

"I've got some games under my belt and I feel the right form is there. I do get a lot of pleasure out of assists and scoring good goals.

"When it doesn't work for yourself it's ideal that you can put someone else in that position and they can finish it.

"That's the advantage with this team - there are so many players who can score goals and that's so difficult to defend."

Grinding

But Bergkamp has also insisted Arsenal must keep on grinding out results like they did against Derby on Tuesday when they needed true grit rather than total football to go back to the top of the table.

Bergkamp added: "It's always difficult against Derby. No matter how well you do away from home against them, it's always a hard game. I don't know how they manage it but all credit to them because they make it difficult for us.

"It was just necessary to win. There was nothing special this time - not a lot of good moments, although we had some chances, but overall the three points were the most important thing and we got that."

Meanwhile, Robert Pires, 29, has agreed a new contract extension which will keep him at Highbury until 2005.

Pires has agreed an additional one-year and improved pounds 40,000-a-week deal which makes him one of the best-paid players at Highbury, along with Bergkamp, Patrick Vieira and Kanu.

French midfielder Pires, who joined Arsenal from Marseille for pounds 7.5m in the summer of 2000, has been a revelation this season, scoring 11 goals and playing a major part in the club's Treble charge.

Gunners boss Wenger said: "Pires has made a big mental step forward this season. He gets forward a lot more and is more aggressive in the box.

"He is also better prepared physically for the English game which also shows that he has a good attitude."
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Mar 7, 2002
Words:723
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