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Wenger hails Cesc factor

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger admits he cannot afford to lose Cesc Fabregas to injury if his side are to maintain their title challenge.

The Gunners captain was inspirational as he scored one and had a hand in the second for substitute Fran Merida in the 2-0 victory over Bolton at the Reebok Stadium yesterday.

Having missed the last three matches with a hamstring injury, the Spain international showed just how valuable he is to Arsenal, who moved to within three points of Premier League leaders Chelsea -- with Bolton again to come at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday.

"It is important for us not to lose any more players, especially him. He is just coming back now," said Wenger.

"We survived OK when he was not there but, in the period coming up, when we have so many big games, it is important to have him.

"If you watched the game, it is difficult to say how much we have missed him but you don't need to explain to anyone that it is important."

Asked if Fabregas was the best midfielder currently playing in the Premier League, Wenger added: "I do not see all the games but what is very interesting for us is Cesc gets stronger and stronger and has more personality on the pitch, like the whole team.

"He grows. He will be 23 this year -- he is just starting."

Wenger then challenged his side to assert their title credentials by climbing to the top of the table on Wednesday night.


Victory against the same opponents at the Emirates Stadium would enable Arsenal to go past Chelsea on goals scored -- a remarkable recovery given that they trailed the leaders by 11 points after a 3-0 defeat at home to the West London club at the end of November.

"Our motivation will be 100pc on Wednesday," the Arsenal manager said. "We know we're in quite an interesting position that nobody expected us to be in. We have a belief.

"When the season started, not everyone in the squad was convinced we would be where we are. Now they are.

"It will mean something to the players to go top. We're a big club and, when you're a big club, the biggest difficulty is to know in October that you cannot challenge for the title, as happened last season. Now we know we can win it, so we have to go for it."

Arsenal's injury problems show no sign of receding. Samir Nasri and Aaron Ramsey were ruled out for three weeks with respective hamstring and thigh injuries sustained in training last week, but Wenger expressed hope that Denilson and Theo Walcott will have recovered from back and abductor muscle problems to face Bolton.

Nicklas Bendtner is also on the mend, after a complicated groin problem, and is expected back at the start of next month.

"We expected a fully committed Bolton team and they put us under pressure with long balls. For 20 minutes in the second half they had chances and were dangerous because we lost too many balls in midfield. It will be hard again on Wednesday," said Wenger.

Coyle expressed satisfaction with his players' efforts, despite his side being rooted in the bottom three. The Scot has seen enough in only seven days at the club to be convinced that they can avoid relegation, although he could do without one of their two games in hand being a return fixture against Arsenal.

"The level of performance was terrific and what we offered over 90 minutes would normally have resulted in points, whether one or three," Coyle said. "Some of our play was terrific and, if we continue that throughout the season, it will result in a lot of points. If we play like that at the Emirates on Wednesday it could have a positive result.

"I was flattered by the reception -- it was fantastic -- but I'm not here for that, I'm here to win points. We won't face that quality every week and can take a lot of positives. The quality of Fabregas, with the first goal when he bounced a one-two off Eduardo, he could play for anyone in world football," said Coyle.

Coyle was, however, pleased with his side's display as they created enough chances to have earned something from the game.

"What we offered for the duration of the match would, on another day, result in points -- whether it be one or three. We were always in the game, particularly second half, and they weren't half-chances, they were real, gilt-edged chances.

"We created chances from the first minute of the match and, if you analyse that game, I think we were deserving of a better result.

"We never got that break you need against these elite clubs -- the first goal hit Matt Taylor on the back of the head and a couple of boys have fallen over when the ball has come into the box."