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Sunday, 9 June, 2002, 18:01 GMT 19:01 UK
Inamoto proves a point
Junichi Inamoto
Inamoto is keen to prove a point to Wenger

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When Junichi Inamoto arrived at Arsenal last July, a clever theory as to why the Gunners had signed him was banded about.

Arsenal had not recruited the Gamba Osaka midfielder to strengthen their playing staff, oh no.

Instead, they saw him as a means of tapping into the lucrative Far East football market.

Inamoto would help the Gunners develop their profile in the area and shift replica shirts and merchandise, or so the argument went.

The 23-year-old became something of a joke figure at Highbury last season.

He played a negligible role in Arsenal's Double-winning campaign, failing to start a Premiership match and playing only a handful of Worthington Cup and Champions League games.

But he has been one of the undoubted stars in the early stages of this World Cup, turning in two spectacular performances to help Japan rise to the top of their group.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger
Wenger: In Japan to see Inamoto's performances
Suddenly it seems Arsene Wenger may have bought Inamoto for his footballing ability after all.

The 3.5m man has looked a complete midfielder in Japan's first couple of games, showing good touch, strength, pace and an eye for goal.

His goal against Belgium in Japan's opening game was outstanding.

He burst clear of a the Belgian defence before thumping an inexorable drive past helpless keeper Geert de Vlieger.

And in the closing minutes, Inamoto was denied a winner when he was dubiously adjudged to have fouled a defender before opportunistically firing home.

In Japan's next game, against Russia, Inamoto showed great composure to slot the ball round the keeper and into the top corner to earn his country their first World Cup win.

It is ironic that Inamoto, a Highbury understudy, has outshone his more illustrious club colleagues in the early stages of the World Cup.

Arsenal's star striker, Thierry Henry, has been struggling with an injury and was sent off in the 0-0 draw with Uruguay following a reckless two-footed tackle.

He and his colleagues from Highbury in the France squad, Patrick Vieira and Sylvain Wiltord, face the humiliating prospect of exiting the World Cup before the knock-out stages.

Nwankwo Kanu has already suffered that ignominy, his Nigeria side having lost both their opening games.

And Sweden's Fredrik Ljungberg, who was instrumental in Arsenal winning the Premiership and FA Cup, has been plagued by a knee injury and has looked some way below his best.

Inamoto is primarily concerned with helping Japan give a good account of themselves in front of their own fans at the World Cup.

But he is also determined to prove a point to Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger, who is in Japan working as a commentator and has seen Inamoto's performances at first hand.

Reports at the end of last season suggested that Wenger was keen to offload his Japanese misfit, with PSV Eindhoven his likely destination.

Recent performances may have persuaded the astute Frenchman otherwise.


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