A hamstring injury to Arsenal midfielder Cesc Fabregas has meant he will miss Wednesday night’s Champions League clash at Steve McClaren’s FC Twente side in the Netherlands.
Fabregas (hamstring) joins the likes of Kolo Toure (hip), Abou Diaby (thigh), Philippe Senderos (hamstring) and summer signing Samri Nasri (knee/thigh) on the sidelines along with Tomas Rosicky and Eduardo, who are both recovering from long-term injuries.
The number of absentees means Wales Under-21 international Aaron Ramsey, who joined the Gunners in a five-million-pound deal, from Cardiff could be handed a full competitive debut alongside young Brazilian Denilson in midfield in this third qualifying round, first leg clash.
The Gunners travel to the Netherlands for the first leg against former England coach McClaren’s new club with plenty of questions still to be answered about Wenger’s side.
After his chastening experience as England coach, McClaren would love to stick two fingers up at his critics by knocking out Arsenal.
But Twente are making their Champions League debut after defeating Ajax in a play-off last season and, although Arsenal have only just completed their pre-season programme, McClaren knows his side have only a slim chance of advancing to the Champions League group stages.
He is already describing the match more as a learning experience for his players than a realistic opportunity to progess in the competition.
“Playing Arsenal will be a great experience for the players and if they don’t become better players after playing against Arsenal, they shouldn’t be in football,” McClaren said.
“That’s how you learn. That’s how you grow and playing against one of the best teams in Europe, obviously the players will grow from that.”
McClaren is still finding his feet at Twente – his knowledge of the Dutch language only extends to ‘thank you very much’ so far – and the match has probably come too early for him and his team.
But the former Middlesbrough boss is adamant perceptions of him back in England are the last thing on his mind.
“I really don’t know and I don’t care,” McClaren said. “I know what I am, who I am and the most important people to me are those around me, those I’ve worked with.
“People have called me up to say, ‘We admire you because of the gamble you’ve taken.’ I don’t see it like that, I see it as a challenge. Although I’ve had success and I’ve managed England, I still have a lot to learn.”
While McClaren bids for redemption, Wenger has loftier ambitions. He wants to erase the painful memories of last season’s Champions League quarter-final exit against Liverpool and Fabregas is the key to achieving that target.
The Spanish star has returned from his post Euro 2008 break just in time because Wenger has been unable to sign replacements for departed central midfielders Mathieu Flamini and Gilberto Silva.
Wenger has gone on record with his desire to bring in a new partner for Fabregas, but links with Gokhan Inler, Udinese’s Swiss international, Aston Villa’s Gareth Barry, Manchester City’s Michael Johnson and Xabi Alonso of Liverpool have yet to yield a positive conclusion.
So, although Fabregas is still of full match fitness, the midfielder’s presence at Vitesse Arnhem’s Gelrodome will be reassuring for Wenger.
“I believe Cesc will be ready for Wednesday. He has worked very hard since he came back,” Wenger said.
“You cannot say he will be at his best, but he will be fit enough.
“To win big trophies makes you more confident and gives you something you can pass on to the team around you.
“At 21 he already has a lot of experience. He is an intelligent boy. But I would not like to put too much pressure on him.
“We know every single player in his area is very important. Cesc in midfield is a player now who has maybe more experience than the others.”
With Abou Diaby sidelined for a month with a thigh injury, Wenger is likely to use Denilson alongside Fabregas in central midfield.
“It worked well with Denilson and Fabregas against Ajax last week. Of course you cannot say after just one match, you need a run of games to see if a partnership will work, but I am confident it will,” Wenger said.
- Soccer News Like
- Be the first of your friends!