Wenger has respect for Shakhtar Donetsk

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The Independent Football

Arsene Wenger has warned only a great performance will see Arsenal beat Shakhtar Donetsk tonight to take a massive step towards a place in the last 16 of the Champions League.

With the Ukrainians - who signed Croatia forward Eduardo from Arsenal in the summer - also having picked up six points out of their opening two Group H games, victory for either side would put them in pole position to qualify for the knockout stages.

Shakhtar are yet to concede a goal in Europe and domestically have recorded 15 wins out of 17 games.

Gunners boss Wenger - who could hand fit-again captain Cesc Fabregas a first start since September 18 - is certainly not taking tonight's challenge lightly.

"In this group until now you had 12 points at stake - six went to Shakhtar, six went to Arsenal. That means what is at stake is the qualifying and also the top of the group, which is why it is a very important game," he said.

"It is a key game because it gives us an opportunity to basically think we have qualified.

"Shakhtar are on a good winning run, they are dominating their league, they have just won 3-0 at Braga.

"We are on our toes. We know that only a great performance will win us the game."

Without talismanic midfielder Fabregas, Arsenal lost successive Barclays Premier League matches before the international break, although they returned to winning ways against Birmingham at the weekend.

In Europe, however, the Gunners maintained their 100% start following a hard-earned 3-1 victory at Partizan Belgrade.

Wenger will give plenty of thought as to whether he should throw Fabregas straight back into the action.

"It will be whether I take a gamble or not, because he has been out for a long time," Wenger said, "but physically he is ready and fit - and wanting to play.

"You know his influence on our team, he is our leader, our passer, he has a good level of assists and a good goalscoring record.

"Ideally you want him in the team."

Eduardo ended a three-year stay at Arsenal when he moved to Donetsk during the summer in a £6million deal, having found himself pushed down the pecking order at Emirates Stadium following the free transfer signing of Marouane Chamakh.

Wenger admits it was somewhat emotional to see the Brazil-born forward leave, the 27-year-old having fought his way back to full fitness following an horrific broken leg and dislocated ankle at Birmingham in February 2008.

"I worked very hard to get him here and he left with the feeling that he could not completely fulfil the promise he had in the first season," Wenger said.

England youngster Jack Wilshere is available despite his red card against Birmingham on Saturday, which will see the 18-year-old midfielder serve a three-match domestic ban, while striker Nicklas Bendtner and Theo Walcott are both in the squad after recovering from injury.

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