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Birmingham v Arsenal: Campbell and Bendtner to be risked

Nicklas Bendtner ArsenalBy Jonny Payne

Two years ago Arsenal travelled to St.Andrew’s to play Birmingham, flying high at the top of the Premier League. By the end of the game, however, Arsenal had conceded a late equaliser, in-form striker Eduardo had broken his leg and captain William Gallas had thrown a wobbly in the centre-circle.

It was to prove the turning point of Arsenal’s season as their title challenge faltered while Manchester United and Chelsea went on to battle it out for the honours at home and abroad.

Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger looked back on the match with regret, but he does not believe that the match was the turning point in Arsenal’s season.

“I believe on a particular incident on the day we didn’t deal well with the situation we faced on the day, but since then exactly the same happened to us at Stoke and we responded very well and in a very strong manner,” he said.

“I don’t think on that particular day we lost the championship. I think there were much more ingredients, like some players not completely focused because we had problems with players who were out of contract. I don’t believe we lost the championship at Birmingham.”

Arsenal return to St.Andrew’s tomorrow in a similar situation, high on confidence and with momentum behind them, surely lightning could not strike twice?

With the midweek Champions League match-up with Barcelona looming, Wenger would be forgiven for resting some of his key men, but with his team in the hunt for the Premier League, the Frenchman insists the sole concentration is on the Birmingham match.

“There are three teams in the race and it is down to the team with the most consistency. We can only focus on our own performances because we know our route has to be perfect, and to be perfect it’s important to focus on our own performances. We need some help from the other teams but we know even that only works if we are consistent and keep our momentum. We have created a fantastic momentum and we have created a great belief within our squad but the consistency of our run is the most important.

Wenger added: “We have to just keep the spirit hunger and desire and the intelligence we have shown until now. We know for a long time we have fixed ourselves targets to play every game like our life depends on it and it has been like that for a long time now. I believe we need to bring consistency to our attitude. We have a remarkable attitude and a remarkable spirit in the team and we just have to continue like we have been doing.”

Arsenal will be without first choice defensive pair Thomas Vermaelen – who is suspended due to his sending-off against West Ham last week – and William Gallas, who remains on the sideline with a calf injury.

Speaking at yesterday’s pre-match press conference, Wenger said:

“Gallas is back today from his rehabilitation and he’s back in full training tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday, but he will be too short to be available for the weekend and certainly for the midweek game.”

In place to deputise once more is 35 year-old Sol Campbell, with Wenger insisting that he will not rest the former England international with Wednesday’s match in mind.

“I don’t know, I will pick him for the next game because for me the next game is the only important one and I don’t consider Barcelona for the next game. At the back we need to be solid to win this game, we’ve fought the whole season to be in there and this is the priority,” he said.

There were rumours earlier this week that Nicklas Bendtner, who has scored six times in his last six matches, may not be available for the trip to his former club, but he seems to have recovered in time.

Wenger said: “He should be available he’s not back in full training yet, he has a late test [this morning] but he should be available.”

Bendtner returns to the club where he spent a fruitful season on loan in 2006. The Dane scored eleven goals while in The Midlands helping his team to promotion in the process.

Wenger explained his reasons for sending the striker on loan:

“I’d seen Nicklas Bendtner in the reserves and he had an impact in the games and you feel he needed to go somewhere to toughen up, and there no better place in the world than the Championship to give a player a realistic view of how hard this job is. He went there, and in fairness to him, he became a regular player straight away so that shows you that he has the qualities to survive at the top level.”

Possible team:

With Vermaelen suspended, Alex Song may drop back to partner Campbell with Denilson filling in the defensive midfield duties. Abou Diaby should reclaim a starting role after an impressive cameo against West Ham, while Bacary Sagna should replace Emmanuel Eboue at right-back, as he usually does in difficult away games.


Sagna                 Campbell                 Song                 Clichy


Fabregas                         Diaby

Nasri                                                                                  Arshavin


Subs: Fabianski, Silvestre, Eboue, Eduardo, Walcott, Rosicky, Vela

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