Fabregas gives backing to Almunia

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The Independent Online

Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas maintains goalkeeper Manuel Almunia has the complete trust of the team as they look to mount a double challenge for domestic and European honours.

The Gunners have kicked off the Barclays Premier League season with three wins from four games to sit two points behind Chelsea.

Almunia's position as first choice was the subject of much speculation over the summer, as Arsenal had bids for Fulham's Australia international Mark Schwarzer turned down.

Manager Arsene Wenger feels both Almunia and his deputy Lukasz Fabianski - who has also had a fair share of criticism - coped with the situation well.

Spaniard Almunia, 33, captained the side on the opening day at Liverpool, when he pulled off a fine save from Steven Gerrard's stoppage-time free-kick to help secure a point, and also came through a test of character in the 2-1 win at Blackburn before the international break.

Almunia - who could do little to prevent Bolton's equaliser in the 4-1 victory on Saturday - will again be the last line of defence when Arsenal open their 2010/2011 Champions League campaign at home to Portuguese side Braga on Wednesday night.

Fabregas, now closing in on full match sharpness after the World Cup, has every confidence in the Gunners' current number one.

"Manuel commanded the defence very well at Blackburn - but it is not just about one game or two or three," the Spain midfielder said.

"He is well-loved player among everybody here and performs well for this club.

"We all wish him a super season and have a lot of trust."

Wenger saw Abou Diaby (leg) added to the injury list on Saturday following what looked a bad tackle from Bolton defender Paul Robinson, which went unpunished, and resulted in the midfielder, who had only just come on, having to be substituted.

Winger Samir Nasri - fit again following knee surgery - will return into contention after being an unused substitute.

Wenger chose to rest both full-backs Gael Clichy and Bacary Sagna for the Premier League game.

England international Kieran Gibbs, who turns 21 later this month, believes the competition for places can only be positive.

"It is difficult to play the same team through all of the season because players are going to get tired - that is when we start to get injuries," Gibbs told Arsenal TV Online.

"It is good for people to get a chance.

"Not only is the competition going to be good for Gael to play well, it is also going to be good for the club as well because we are both fighting to win help the team win something this year."

Arsenal are expected to have an easy ride through to the knockout stages for the 11th season in a row, with Shakhtar Donetsk and unfancied Partizan Belgrade making up the rest of Group H.

While Wenger believes his squad are now "equipped to win the Champions League", the Arsenal manager has warned against complacency, with Braga having knocked out European veterans Sevilla in the play-offs.

Gibbs insisted no-one will be taking the result for granted tomorrow night.

"It is the Champions League, so there is no easy group," the young left-back added.

"The games are going to be hard, home and away, so it is important to get off to a strong start.

"We have shown a lot of character in our opening matches and hopefully now we can build on it for the next few weeks."

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