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Europa League round of 16 draw

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By ESPN Staff

Wenger lauds Diaby ahead of start against Spurs

Arsene Wenger believes Arsenal will soon see a new, stronger Abou Diaby at the heart of the Arsenal midfield on a regular basis.

The 20-year-old Frenchman is set to make his first start of the season in tonight's Carling Cup semi-final first leg at Tottenham following his recovery from an horrific ankle injury suffered towards the end of last season.

It has been a long road back to full fitness for the former Auxerre youngster, and Wenger admitted he feared for the career of the tough-tackling midfielder, often likened to ex-Gunners skipper Patrick Vieira.

Wenger said: 'I had a big doubt in my mind that he would come back.

'They told me first that the broken ankle was a very serious one and they needed advice from the surgeon, who was only optimistic after the surgery.

'I am very happy because he not only came back, but he looks even stronger than before.'

Wenger added: 'It is only his first game back and we must be patient - but he can be a great player and I am sure he will be.'

The Gunners boss believes Diaby's return will give another dimension to his midfield options.

'I feel we missed him because he gives you something that the other players do not have. That kind of Vieira presence in the physical challenges,' said Wenger.

'In some games you want him in there.

'Also in the air. When you go to a place and the ball is `up there' all the time it is very important to have a guy of his size on the throw-ins, set-pieces and long balls forward.'

The Arsenal manager believes Diaby can go on to emulate Vieira by winning a century of caps for France.

Wenger, though, did not want to draw too many direct comparisons with his former captain, who left for Juventus in the summer of 2005.

The Arsenal manager said: 'They are not similar sorts of players at all really - but in the style of run and behaviour and especially in the strength of the challenges he reminds me of Patrick.

'After that he is a different type of player.

'Patrick at the start was more of a tackler and defensive player, but then I suppose it is strange since he [Diaby] has come back from injury he is going into that kind of role.

'Before he was only interested in attacking. Now he uses his strength in the challenges.'

Wenger is set to continue his policy of fielding a youthful side tonight, having already beaten Barclays Premiership opposition at Everton and, in the last round, recorded an astonishing 6-3 victory away over Liverpool.

'They deserve it,' Wenger told Arsenal TV Online.

'It is very difficult to say `listen you are good enough to play at Liverpool, but you are not good enough to play at Tottenham'. They have earned the right.'

Robin van Persie, meanwhile, is set to be sidelined for up to two months after fracturing a metatarsal bone in his foot when scoring the equaliser in the 2-1 Premiership win over Manchester United on Sunday.