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Wenger salutes Sol renaissance

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has labelled Sol Campbell's turnaround in fortune this season as "unbelievable".

The 35-year-old former England defender ended his first spell at Arsenal with a Champions League final goal against Barcelona in 2006 but was playing for Notts County in League Two earlier this season.

He made one appearance for County before leaving and then re-signing for Arsenal in January. But even Wenger admits he is surprised by the change in Campbell's fortunes as Arsenal prepare to face Barcelona in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final at the Emirates tomorrow night.

"It is unbelievable," said Wenger. "He played at Notts County six months ago. That he can turn up and play against Barcelona is quite amazing."

Wenger will also hope to unleash a more powerful Cesc Fabregas against former club Barcelona. The 22-year-old Arsenal midfielder has smashed 18 goals in all competitions this season and is averaging one goal every two games.

If he hits the net three more times, the Catalan will have equalled his combined tally for the past three campaigns.

Fabregas is hoping to shake off a knee injury to play against his former club but boss Wenger believes his scoring form has been the result of a calmness in front of goal and more physical power.

"I believe he is more relaxed," said Wenger.

"There is less tension in his finishing. You feel that before he wanted to force the chance and now he is more relaxed.

"Also he has gained more physical power. You can see he resists much more the runs of his opponents and he is more powerful in his runs. These two ingredients make a big difference.


"Also I believe the change in formation has had an impact as well. He has more freedom to join in now."

But it was his perceptive passing and not his eye for goal that first attracted Wenger to the player.

Back in 2003, the Arsenal manager travelled to Finland for the U17s World Cup in order to run the rule over, among others, a blossoming young midfielder in the Spanish team.

Fabregas had Barcelona in his blood and was rising rapidly through the ranks at the Nou Camp alongside the likes of Lionel Messi and Gerard Pique.

Fabregas won the Golden Boot as top scorer and was voted player of the tournament for his overall contribution and 12 days after losing to Brazil in the final, the youngster signed for Arsenal.

"I couldn't go to watch a youth team game at Barcelona because they would not have welcomed me," explained Wenger. "So I could only watch him in the Under-17 national team.

"You could see straight away that his vision of the game was exceptional. He was physically a little bit weak at the time but he could score goals.

"I do not know if there were other teams in for him. We were just first and players want to join us because they feel they have a chance to play. Many young players want to join us because of that."