Arsenal boosted as Fabregas is declared fit to face Juve

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The Independent Online

Cesc Fabregas will today travel to Turin with the rest of the Arsenal squad after being declared fit enough to play in tomorrow's Champions' League quarter-final against Juventus.

Right-back Emmanuel Eboué, who was a doubt with a groin injury, has also recovered. The news is a significant boost for Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger, who had rated the pair's chances of playing in the second leg as 40-60 against.

The injuries were picked up in the 5-0 rout of Aston Villa on Saturday with Fabregas replaced after 18 minutes with a foot injury. However, scans have shown that the 18-year-old Spaniard has not suffered any significant damage beyond some swelling and bruising which has calmed down.

With Arsenal defending a 2-0 lead from last week's exhilarating first leg against the Italian champions, both players are regarded as vital to the chances of qualifying for the last four of the European Cup for the first time. Fabregas is still a teenager, of course, and Eboué is just 22, and yesterday it emerged that Arsenal are continuing their aggressive policy of recruiting the best young talent from across Europe by pursuing their interest in French midfielder Yoann Gourcuff.

The exciting 19-year-old, who plays for Stade Rennes, was again watched by Arsenal scout - and former player - Gilles Grimandi on Sunday at his club's league match away to Toulouse. Gourcuff, an attacking, right-sided player, who can operate in midfield or up front, was again in impressive form in the victory and has been tracked for some time by Wenger, who is hoping to close a deal in the summer.

Gourcuff has just one more year on his contract at Rennes and is likely to leave in the summer. Arsenal face stiff competition from a host of clubs in Italy and France, especially Monaco, who have held talks with the French under-21 international and shown him around their training ground. Indeed, Arsenal's opponents tomorrow, Juventus, are also among Gourcuff's suitors, along with Milan, although Wenger's impressive record of recruiting players from Ligue 1 should not be discounted.

His most recent purchase, along with Emmanuel Adebayor - who is ineligible for tomorrow's match - was another 19-year-old midfielder, Abou Diaby, from Auxerre, and it was Diaby who replaced Fabregas at the weekend.

Diaby remains on standby, with Sol Campbell finally recovered and available in defence. If Eboué suffers a relapse then it is likely Wenger would move Kolo Touré to right-back and deploy Campbell for the first time since his astonishing walk-out after his nightmare 45 minutes against West Ham United on 1 February. Bringing him back for such a crucial match would amount to a risk, although Wenger's other option, using Swiss teenager Johan Djourou, may be more of a gamble.

However, the recovery of Eboué will hopefully make the decision unnecessary. Both he and Fabregas have contributed brilliantly to Arsenal's recent, irrepressible form which Touré described as "our best football of the season".

The Ivorian, outstanding at Highbury, said that the team would travel to the Stadio delle Alpi "without any anxiety". He added: "That was the key to our success at home and we have to play like that again in Turin. There was no euphoria in the team after the first leg because we know that we have not won the tie yet and our manager constantly reminds us of that.

"Juventus have important players missing, but we have had the same problem for many months this season and we have come through positively. Juventus also have that ability and anyone who comes in for them can be a matchwinner." Touré said he was relieved that Fabregas appears to have recovered. "Cesc is a key offensive player for our team," Touré said. "We need him [tomorrow] more than ever."

The captain, Thierry Henry, has also called for cool heads for what he predicted would be the "most difficult" game of the Champions' League campaign for Arsenal. "It's good to go to Turin on the back of a result like that [against Aston Villa]," he said. "But the Champions' League is another competition. Football can always reserve some surprises - and you always have to stay cool and calm." It will help Arsenal's sense of equilibrium that they can call upon their two tiros.

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