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Wenger: we'll ride out storm

Arsene Wenger admitted last night that it will take a special performance from Arsenal's remaining fit players to emerge unscathed from this evening's Champions League tie against Porto. Given the injury crisis that has engulfed the club in recent days, that was something of an understatement.

Manuel Almunia, William Gallas, Alexandre Song, Eduardo da Silva and Andrey Arshavin were left at home yesterday, leaving Arsenal without the spine of their side against a team who have not conceded a goal in their past three matches.

Returning with a draw for the second leg at the Emirates Stadium would be celebrated with gusto.

In urging his players to dig deep, Wenger attempted to summon up the spirit that took a similarly unfancied side to the final in Paris four years ago, a run that began with a 1-0 win over Real Madrid, without Ashley Cole, Dennis Bergkamp and Sol Campbell.

Wenger's message that substantial achievements can follow adversity will be echoed before kick-off by the two players who started that game at the Bernabeu and are still at the club, Cesc Fabregas and Emmanuel Eboue, as well as Campbell, who was absent after going AWOL early that season but is preparing to make his first Champions League appearance since the 2006 final.

"We need to revive that spirit," Wenger said. "We need to dig deep. You do not go to Porto and get away with an easy game. We need to be special. We cannot turn up in the last 16 with an average game."

For all Arsenal's injury problems, Wenger still has several decisions to make, although the manager indicated -- with another classic understatement -- that Campbell is likely to start alongside Thomas Vermaelen on what would be his 200th appearance for the club.

"We have (Mikael) Silvestre who can come in, but the difference is that if he plays then we have two left-footed players at centre half," Wenger said. "Mikael is very left-footed. Sol has a lot of experience, which is why we re-signed him. A few months ago he was playing for Notts County at Morecambe, but when you have quality you can always come back. A lot has happened since then."


Campbell's lack of pace against the speed of Falcao, the Porto and Colombia striker, will be a concern for Wenger, but his biggest fear centres on the inexperience of Lukasz Fabianski, the replacement for Almunia, who could be out for several weeks with a broken finger.

The 24-year-old Poland goalkeeper has started only five matches this season, three of which have ended in defeat, and was at fault for both goals in last year's FA Cup semi-final loss to Chelsea.

Wenger claimed Fabianski would develop into one of the best goalkeepers in the world after that defeat at Wembley and made another attempt to bolster his confidence yesterday.

"I have complete faith in Fabianski," Wenger said.

"He has shown both that he has exceptional talent, but that he also lacks a little bit of experience, for example against Chelsea.

"Sometimes maybe he comes too much for some deep balls, but he's very talented.

"Don't forget that one of the greatest goalkeepers ever in England, David Seaman, made mistakes at 22 or 23 if you watched him. That's part of the learning process. I believe he's a very intelligent goalkeeper and he will have learned from his mistakes."


Wenger has most options in attack, although the need to protect a patched-up defence is leading him towards selecting Eboue on the right of a five-man midfield.

Samir Nasri is likely to start on the left, bringing more frustration for Theo Walcott, who will again start on the bench.

"We need to be defensively solid, but not cautious," Wenger said. "That means when we have the ball we have to play."

© The Times, London


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