Wenger battles injury crisis at start of European campaign

Vermaelen and Diaby are out as Arsenal take on Braga in the Champions League without six first-teamers
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The Independent Football

Arsenal will have six first-team players missing for their Champions League Group H opener at home to Braga tonight, after Abou Diaby and Thomas Vermaelen were ruled out through injury.

Midfielder Diaby damaged his ankle in the Premier League victory over Bolton Wanderers on Saturday, while central defender Vermaelen is still nursing a knock to his Achilles tendon sustained while playing for Belgium last week.

"Diaby is out with an ankle problem following the tackle from [Bolton goalkeeper] Paul Robinson and I do not know for how long," manager Arsène Wenger said yesterday before bemoaning the nature of the challenge.

"He will not play tomorrow and certainly not at the weekend," Wenger added. "Thomas Vermaelen is out as well with an Achilles problem coming back from Belgium, so we do not have him either. We have Walcott, Van Persie, Bendtner and Ramsey already out. Now Vermaelen and Diaby, so that is quite a good team out."

Theo Walcott was injured while playing for England and faces a six-week lay-off, as does fellow striker Robin van Persie; Nicklas Bendtner has been struggling with a groin injury.

For Chelsea, no such problems and manager Carlo Ancelotti had the luxury yesterday of naming his side to face MSK Zilina tonight in their Champions League opener in Group F.

John Terry has shaken off a rib injury to play and it is only the England midfielder Frank Lampard who is out with a hernia problem. Ashley Cole has been rested and is back in London, while the Ivory Coast striker Didier Drogba is suspended.

Ancelotti will play the young forward Daniel Sturridge in attack. "We want to involve more young players compared to last season," Ancelotti said. "These players are now more ready to play in the first team. Gaël Kakuta played on Saturday, and [against MSK Zilina] we will play Daniel Sturridge from the beginning. We want to use the young players so they play more games."

Of Sturridge he added: "He has improved a lot in the past year. He improved his character, his professional behaviour. I am happy. He has matured; he is a fantastic striker. I have never seen a striker as quick as he is."

Ancelotti was in bullish mood and said he was convinced his team would end Roman Abramovich's seven-year itch and win the Champions League.