Arsenal optimistic Fabregas will win race to face Barça

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The Independent Online

The Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas is likely to be fit to face his former club Barcelona in the Champions League quarter-final first leg at the Emirates tomorrow night.

The Spaniard suffered a knee injury in Saturday's 1-1 draw with Birmingham following a tackle by Craig Gardner but a scan yesterday revealed no serious damage and he is hoping to train today. A statement on the club's website last night said: "The 22-year-old continues to receive treatment for the severe bruising to his knee and leg that he suffered on Saturday."

Arsène Wenger, the Arsenal manager, yesterday recalled how he managed to woo Fabregas away from Barcelona, with the promise of regular first-team football. He watched the 16-year-old shine for Spain at the Under-17s World Cup in Finland in 2003, and signed him up just days after the teenager lost in the final to Brazil.

Wenger said: "I couldn't go to watch a youth team game at Barcelona because they would not have welcomed me. So I could only watch him in the under-17s 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."

Fabregas has matured into a powerful attacking midfielder this season, with 18 goals in all competitions. Wenger claimed his goalscoring form comes from a combination of greater calmness in front of goal, more physical power and a change in his role in the side The Arsenal manager said: "There is less tension in his finishing. You feel that before he wanted to force the chance. Also he has gained more physical power. You can see he resists much more the runs of his opponents and is more powerful in his runs. Also the change in formation, he has more freedom to join in now."

Wenger yesterday nominated the Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola as the best in Europe. Asked by a French newspaper to name his top-three managers, he chose Guardiola ahead of Sir Alex Ferguson and Spain manager Vicente del Bosque. Wenger said: "Guardiola is the obvious choice. He has won everything and done so with a style and a class I really admire."

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