By Richard Clarke

Arsène Wenger is ready to take a cautious gamble on the fitness of Cesc Fabregas for the crucial Champions League tie against Porto on Tuesday.

The Spaniard limped off against Burnley on Saturday just after he had put Arsenal in front. Unfortunately it was a recurrence of the hamstring injury he had suffered in December.

The 22-year-old is Arsenal’s captain, top-scorer and leading assist-maker this season. So naturally he is fundamental to their hopes of overturning that 2-1 deficit in this week’s Knockout Round second leg tie. That’s why, within reason, Wenger will push the envelope.

“I’m ready to take the gamble,” he said. “But it depends how big the gamble is. If it is more than a 50 per cent chance his hamstring goes [on the night] then I will not take it.

“You look at the numbers of Fabregas this season and it is amazing - 14 goals, 15 assists. He’s a fantastic player, with fantastic attitude and commitment. And what people forget an unbelievable work-rate too. He is everywhere and this season he has made a big step forward, massive. It was interesting to see that although he has already played at 16 but, at 22, he has still matured.”

In fact, Wenger even suggested that Fabregas defied his own injury to put Arsenal in front on Saturday. He seemed to pick up the problem midway through the half and was only ‘prepared’ to go off once he had given his side the lead.

“He felt a tight hamstring but it had not gone,” said Wenger. “I’m convinced he had put in his mind ‘we have to score a goal and then I’ll go off’ knowing that his hamstring was tight. But we were 1-0 up and I thought we shouldn’t take a gamble.
“Yes he has a little chance for Tuesday,” the manager added. “Sol Campbell will be available but William Gallas will not.” will have full injury news from Wenger’s press conference on Monday.

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8 Mar 2010