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Feb 17, 2009

Eduardo earns Wenger praise on injury return

Arsene Wenger heaped praise on Arsenal striker Eduardo after he completed his return from a broken leg with a match-winning performance against Cardiff City in the FA Cup on Monday evening.

Eduardo scored twice as the Gunners beat the Bluebirds 4-0 in their FA Cup fourth-round replay; Nicklas Bendtner and substitute Robin van Persie also got on the scoresheet as the Gunners made light of the 0-0 stalemate in the initial tie.

Eduardo broke his left fibula and suffered an open dislocation of the left ankle on February 23, 2008 after a mistimed tackle by Birmingham City defender Martin Taylor, but has battled back from what many feared was a career-ending injury.

After almost a year out Wenger included the Croatian striker in the Arsenal starting line-up and Eduardo repaid his manager's faith hitting his first goals since scoring against Manchester City in February last year.

After the game Eduardo was ebullient, describing his comeback as ''The best day of my life''.

He added: ''It was a special moment to score, very emotional. I celebrated by kissing my wedding ring - because my wife and daughter and family supported me right through this.''

Arsenal boss Wenger described Eduardo as a ''mountain'' of mental strength, adding: ''Everybody is very happy for him. This is the kind of game we love to play, and it was good to see them play with the handbrake off.

''He played a big part in that, and I'm very pleased for him. He made a big step forward in training two weeks ago, and you could see he found his sharpness in front of goal.

''He's been extremely strong mentally. I've never seen one minute of doubt in his mind, not one minute where he said 'I don't want to do this'. He is always wanting more. This guy is small but he has the mental strength of a mountain.''

With Eduardo champing at the bit, Wenger will have to manage the 25-year-old's comeback carefully - the striker was forced to leave the pitch while still in search of his hat-trick after picking up a slight hamstring complaint - but Wenger admitted he expected Eduardo to boost Arsenal's prospects in the end-of-season run-in.

''He had a slight tightness of the hamstring, but we expect it will be a small thing,'' said Wenger. ''We'll know at the end of the season how important it [his comeback] is, but I'm very happy to have him back. He can play as a striker, on the flank, behind the striker, up front on his own. That is important for us.''

Wenger also explained Eduardo's decision to celebrate his second goal, a penalty which he earned himself following a second-half surge into the Cardiff box, by running straight to the Arsenal support staff.

''Our fitness coach spent more time with him than with his wife,'' he joked. ''He deserved that hug, as did the physios and the doctors - they all did a tremendous job. They spent a lot of time with Eduardo.

''We get to use him when he is ready, but they all did a great job with him.''

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