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Bergkamp the Irreplaceable.

Dennis Bergkamp might be the best player in the country this season, but one man doesn't make a team. And that's why Manchester United will win the championship at a stroll.

Arsenal are the only team I can see getting anywhere near Alex Ferguson's side in the title race.

They are the second best side in the country. But United are the best by a long way. They are quicker on the counter-attack. They are more creative in midfield, have a bigger armoury of attacking options and have better movement and passing ability.

Physically and mentally, United have a harder edge than any other team in Britain - possibly in Europe.

They are playing the best football I've seen from anyone for the past three or four years and remind me so much of Liverpool when we were really dominating the game during the early 80s.

They've got the best squad of players, outstanding individuals, the best manager, the most intimidating stadium and an inner belief that no-one can touch them.

Arsenal started like a house on fire, but seem to have lost their way recently. A lot of that has to do with the absence of Dennis Bergkamp.

No team in the country relies on one player as much as Arsenal do on their Dutch striker. His form this season has been everything we expected from him when he signed from Inter Milan in 1995.

Not only is he a sensational striker, he is also their most creative player. He makes chances against good sides and destroys the poor ones. It's not surprising that opponents take the attitude that if you stop Bergkamp you stop Arsenal.

It's not necessarily true, but it's obvious that in the weeks leading up to his current suspension, defenders were going out of their way to tackle him really hard to see how he reacted.

Crystal Palace did it the other week and it resulted in his fifth booking of the season.

The problem is that Bergkamp is unique. No other player has his ability to take up such threatening positions. No-one in Europe could replace him. Ian Wright missed him more than anyone. You could tell from his body language at Derby last week that he was getting frustrated at making runs without getting the service he expects.

That's the difference between Arsenal and United. Alex Ferguson's men went two goals down at Derby, but fought back to draw 2-2. Arsenal missed a penalty there and ended up losing 3-0.

Irrespective of yesterday's result at Highbury, I just feel United are a different class to the rest of the Premiership at the moment.

Arsene Wenger has his first team and picks the same players every week. When one of them is unavailable, he's forced to bring in inexperienced foreigners like Nicolas Anelka, Louis Boa Morte, Christopher Wreh or Alberto Mendez.

Fergie shuffles his pack every week and even the kids he brings in are already battle-hardened and experienced.

United are also much more disciplined these days. They don't go round kicking people and chasing the ref anymore. They're far more focused and driven.

Four successive wins in this season's Champions' League has also generated so much confidence in the club.

When we were winning in Europe with Liverpool, we would always come back and turn it on in our next game. We that knew the whole country was watching us and we would go out there to show everyone what good players we really were.

It's the same with United now. It's not arrogance, simply supreme self- confidence that no-one else can live with you.

Arsenal are as close to them as any team in the country. I certainly can't see any other side seriously challenging for the championship.

But there is still a big gap between United and the Gunners. And it's getting wider, rather than closer, all the time.

GLENN KEEPS THEM TICKING

I will be interested to see whether Glenn Hoddle experiments with his England side against Cameroon on Saturday or if he rewards the players who got him to the World Cup finals.

But there is no doubt that the next few months will be used by the England coach as an opportunity to have a look at the fringe players jostling for a place in his squad for France next summer.

And that is brilliant news for every Premiership manager. There can be no bigger carrot than the possibility of a trip to the World Cup finals. And that should mean it will keep every half-decent Englishman on his toes and firing away on all cylinders throughout the season.

Hoddle will already know his strongest side but has to have a decent replacement lined up for every position - and that's what these forthcoming friendlies will help him to establish.

Robbie Fowler, Steve McManaman, Rio Ferdinand, Nigel Martyn, Ugo Ehiogu, Chris Sutton, Nicky Butt, Stan Collymore and possibly even Michael Owen are all looking to establish their credentials before Glenn names his final 22. And if that keeps them fit, focused and hungry, we'll all feel the benefit.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Author:Lawrenson, Mark
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Nov 10, 1997
Words:848
Previous Article:BRAVE NEV'S LOST CAUSE.
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