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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Apr 11, 2006

Campbell to return for Arsenal against Pompey

Sol Campbell is set to make his first Arsenal appearance in two-and-a-half months at Portsmouth on Wednesday - with manager Arsene Wenger predicting the England centre-back still has a big part to play for club and country this season.

The 31-year-old has not featured for the Gunners since his half-time departure in the home defeat by West Ham - when the normally reliable defender was substituted after the last in a series of sub-standard displays.

Injury problems, the latest of which was a bruised toe, have since prevented Campbell making a comeback after the player was granted an extended leave of absence by Wenger.

Campbell was not included in the squad for the trip to Manchester United on Sunday, Wenger keen for the defender to get more training under his belt rather than just travel and 'sit on the bench'.

Now, however, the Arsenal boss feels the experienced England man is more than ready to make his long-awaited return - and he will start at the heart of the Arsenal back-line in place of Philippe Senderos, rested as the squad embark on a hectic run-in.

The Arsenal manager said: 'Sol will start tomorrow because I will rest Senderos, who finished tired against Manchester United - so it gives him a good opportunity to show that he is ready for us and as well for you [England].

'We have eight games now on the trot - game after game - and I will have to rotate in every game now without destroying the balance of the team and the belief of the team.

Wenger hopes he has found the ideal opportunity for Campbell to return.

'It is a good way for Sol to come back,' he said.

'I play him because I feel he is ready for us; but on the other hand, indirectly, he knows he needs to play before the World Cup if he wants to be selected.'

Wenger maintained his decision to recall Campbell in favour of Senderos is in now way a slight on the improving young Swiss defender.

'In football it is not like journalism - where you are the first writer, the second writer. It is completely open,' Wenger observed, addressing reporters this afternoon.

'The only thing I can say is I do not take Senderos out because I am not happy with him.

'I am very happy with him. We have a big record in the Champions League, and it is down to Senderos as well.

'I will make my decisions when I have to make them, but all the three central defenders know it is down to them.'

Wenger knew exactly who to call on when he decided to rest Senderos.

'The first obvious man to come in for me is Sol Campbell. We have to change the team, and I am happy we have Sol Campbell back.

'After that I will go from game to game and make my decisions when I have to.

'I have told Sol. He is happy to play.'

Arsenal will be looking to use their game in hand tomorrow to close the gap on fourth-placed Tottenham in the Barclays Premiership.

With a Champions League semi-final against Villarreal fast approaching, Wenger believes Campbell's first priority must be with club rather than country.

'England is not on my mind. But I would be very happy if he can combine both - for him. I want him to go to the World Cup,' said Wenger.

'But when I make that kind of decision I do not consider England, because that would be unfair.

'The challenge is for him to play well. It is quite simple. I believe he will want first of all to do well for the club.'

'We have now in three-and-a-half weeks, eight games. Naturally he will get games. I believe that he has the quality to be first choice [for England].'

Gunners full-back Ashley Cole, meanwhile, is on the mend following his ankle injury - sustained when on duty for the reserves last month.

Wenger hopes Cole could be in contention for a first-team return just after Easter.

'Ashley Cole will come back into the (training) squad on Monday,' he said.

'So far he has only practised with the fitness coach. He will practise with everybody again on Monday.

'He will not play against Villarreal unless we have a disaster before that, but he should be fit for the last four or five games.'

Wenger is confident Cole, like Campbell, is on track for the World Cup.

'For England, he should not be a problem. For us, I do not know really when he will be ready. We have to see how he responds to normal training.

'But I have spoken to (England boss) Sven-(Goran Eriksson) about Sol and Ashley. I told him both of them will be ready and available for selection.'