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  Tuesday, 18 February, 2003, 18:17 GMT
Champions League preview
The Champions League gets back in action on Tuesday after a winter break.

Joint-leaders Arsenal face Ajax knowing a win would put them in pole position to go through in Group B.

Bayer Leverkusen and Newcastle United do battle in Germany, with both sides needing a win to stand a chance of progressing.

Group A also pitches the leaders against each other, with Inter Milan and Barcelona both looking to put one foot in the quarter-finals when they meet at the Nou Camp.


Arsenal v Ajax

Arsenal face Ajax with boss Arsene Wenger admitting the Gunners need to win the Champions League final to be recognised as a great side.

"We have gained a lot of international respect through the quality of our performances and the fact that Premier League is televised all over the world," he said.

"But to get total recognition, like Real Madrid or Manchester United, you want to win the Champions League."

The Frenchman describes Tuesday's game as their "biggest tie of the season so far".

Arsenal will go into the game full of confidence after their 2-0 defeat of Manchester United at Old Trafford at the weekend.

But the north London side will come up against Dutch striker Rafael van der Vaart - the player Wenger describes as a "young Dennis Bergkamp".

Wenger has been impressed with Ajax, who have been something of a surprise element in the second group stage.

"They are a very young side, based on technique, speed and they have had amazingly good results away from home, winning in Valencia and Lyon," he added.


Bayer Leverkusen v Newcastle

Newcastle face a Bayer Leverkusen side who sacked manager Klaus Toppmoller on Sunday after five consecutive Bundesliga losses.

Magpies boss Sir Bobby Robson celebrates his 70th birthday on Tuesday, but he said neither that nor Toppmoller's sacking will distract them from the main event.

"They've taken a very dramatic step," he said. "They must know what the repercussions are to that, but it doesn't affect me.

"They'll want to get back on track either through the Champions League or their league programme, and we just want to continue.

"We basically need three wins from four games."

Newcastle defender Andy O'Brien is confident Newcastle can reach the quarter-finals.

"We were regarded as muppets after losing our first three games, but we came through that to qualify and we can come through again," O'Brien told the Sunday Sun newspaper.

Thomas Hoerster will take charge of Leverkusen after being temporarily promoted from the club's youth side.


Barcelona v Inter Milan

Barcelona midfielder Xavi said their 2-0 derby win over Espanyol on Saturday night will give the side just the boost they need before they face Inter Milan.

Barca won all 10 of their Champions League games under Louis van Gaal earlier in the season, but the Dutch coach lost his job at the end of last month due to their poor domestic form.

Saturday's win was the club's first since new boss Radomir Antic took charge.

"Victory is a real tonic for us," said Xavi.

"The atmosphere is already different and we'll be a lot more confident now. It was a win we needed and it will do us a power of good."

A record-breaking 11th consecutive Champions League victory over Inter Milan at the Nou Camp would give Barca nine points from three Group A games.

And it would almost certainly guarantee them a place in the quarter-finals.

"Inter are the strongest team in the group, above all in attack, but we'll be looking for the three points at home," added Xavi.


Roma v Valencia

Roma go seeking their first points in Group B when they host Valencia on Tuesday.

They will be looking to improve on a home record that has seen them win only two of 10 homes matches in the Champions League in the past two seasons.

They have also lost three of their last four home games against Spanish opposition.

But Valencia, who have picked up two points in the group so far, have an even poorer record against Italian teams.

They have never won in Italy and lost five times in seven visits.

But they have proved themselves a tough team to beat with only three defeats in their last 31 European games, and are unbeaten in their last six away matches.


Wednesday's games

Tuesday's games

How they stand

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