Arsene wenger admits having his Dutch striker Robin Van Persie back in his Arsenal squad for tonight's North London derby against Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane is a gamble but one that he is willing to take.
Van Persie, out for five months after rupturing ankle ligaments on international duty, will start the game against Spurs on the bench in a match which could see the Gunners overtake Manchester United in the Premier League table.
The Arsenal manager is bringing the striker back ahead of schedule but insists Arsenal have missed Van Persie's goal threat this season. Wenger, who lost William Gallas for the season when he came back too soon in the Champions League first-leg against Barcelona, said: "There is always a gamble in this kind of decision. But in his [Van Persie's] case we have been a bit more cautious because he has had more time for preparation.
"The biggest gamble I took recently was with Gallas. It didn't work, but he came back from a muscular problem, that is not the case for Robin. It was a joint problem. When I pick a player it means he is fit and sharp and has worked very hard. Of course he lacks match-practice but physically he is ready, he is fit."
Wenger believes Arsenal's title challenge would be several points better off but for Van Persie's injury. "He is a very important player for this club," Wenger said. "He is important for the confidence. He can make the final ball, he is good on set-pieces, he can score goals, so we are very happy to have him back. The sadness was that we lost him so early in the season."
Wenger also confirmed defender Sol Campbell would play from the start against his former club and at a ground where he is bound to receive a hostile reception. Campbell, 35, has played six Premier League matches and nine games in all since Wenger relaunched his career after he had walked out of Notts County earlier this season.
Wenger believes Campbell has been one of the keys to Arsenal's continued push for the title. "Sol has been a big support for me and the squad," Wenger said. "He is very important in the dressing room because he is highly focused and motivated. Every time he has played he has turned in a good performance. It is one of the good signings I have made."