Captain shakes off Gazza moment with limping leveller

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The Independent Online

Cesc Fabregas could barely walk at the end of the game, after hauling himself off the treatment table to play his crucial part in a memorable Arsenal comeback.

Unfortunately his efforts came at a terrible price for manager Arsène Wenger, with the Spaniard fearing he might have broken his leg and could be out for months. Arsenal's slender title hopes now rest on a scan on his leg today.

The Spaniard was so determined to score from the penalty spot with seven minutes to go, after Barcelona captain Carles Puyol had been sent off for a clumsy challenge on his opposite number, that he thumped the ball with true venom and looked to have exacerbated his leg injury in the process.

He limped into the net to retrieve the ball, and hobbled around for the final minutes of this enthralling match in the belief that even though he was lame, he might still be able to influence the final outcome. Wenger wanted to take him off, but Fabregas would not go. Wenger said afterwards: "He wanted to stay on. Even walking on the pitch, maybe we'd get a penalty."

The remarkable performance of Fabregas, playing through the pain of a heavily bruised leg from a tackle by Birmingham's Craig Gardner last weekend, means Arsenal can travel to Nou Camp next week with a modicum of hope that they can pull off what would be the most unlikely of victories. However they will have to do it without their charismatic captain.

Fabregas had been little more than a spectator for the first half as Barcelona basked in their ability to pass the ball with extravagant ease. And a spectator is all he will be next week, when Arsenal travel to Spain and attempt to knock Barcelona off their pedestal.

His fate was sealed even before he damaged his leg again, as he will be suspended. The booking Fabregas received in the 44th minute was harsh, as he appeared to clearly take the ball as he slid in on Sergi Busquets. In the Premier League in all likelihood it would not have even registered as a foul. It was certainly no worse than the tackle Fabregas received from Gardner at the weekend, the painful effects of which Fabregas was still clearly still feeling.

Yet in Europe the margins are slim, and it was no surprise when referee Massimo Busacca pulled out his yellow card. The Spaniard understood the full implications of the booking and immediately fell to the ground with his head in his hands, echoing the anguish of Paul Gascoigne when he was booked in England's semi-final at the 1990 World Cup which he knew would rule him out of any final. Despite his disappointment, Fabregas was determined to play as much a part last night as was possible.

Fabregas is now deprived of the chance to demonstrate his skills to a Barcelona public who have yearned to see the product of their famous youth academy in the flesh ever since he left for north London in 2003. They may yet get the opportunity to see him every other week next season, if Fabregas decides the time has come to return to his footballing roots.

Yet if Fabregas, who is still only 22, has itchy feet, one look at the Barcelona bench last night might have shown him the grass is not always greener on the other side. Thierry Henry scored 226 goals during eight memorable years at Arsenal but he has been a shadow of his former self since moving to Barcelona in 2007 and on his return to the club he once dominated, he had to settle for a 15-minute cameo.

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