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Feb 16, 2010

Arsenal dealt major blow with five injury absentees

Arsenal are missing a further five first-team players due to injury as they head to Portugal for the first leg of their Champions League tie against Porto.

Defender William Gallas (back), midfielder Alex Song (knee) and Andrei Arshavin (hamstring) were all absent from the 18-man squad which left Luton Airport on Tuesday afternoon, as were goalkeeper Manuel Almunia and striker Eduardo (hamstring).

The Gunners were already without Robin van Persie, Kieran Gibbs and Johan Djourou due to long-standing problems, but they have at least welcomed forward Carlos Vela back into the side.

Sol Campbell looks set to make a first Champions League appearance since the 2006 final defeat to Barcelona.

Asked if the injuries meant Campbell would play, Arsenal boss Wenger said: ''It's a possibility that I don't rule out at the moment because if he does not play it means two left-footed players in that position (Thomas Vermaelen and Mikael Silvestre). It would mean he can show his signing was worth doing and he can help us in going through to the last eight.''

Speaking about Almunia, Wenger added on Sky Sports News: ''Almunia already had a twisted finger and made it worse and I did not want to take a risk.''

Wenger will not let injuries act as a ready-made excuse though and has urged his side to be wary of Porto, despite their unimpressive domestic season so far.

"It is always difficult in Porto - they always have a team who is committed and technically very good,'' Wenger said. "You respect a team like Porto because you know they will always give you a good game.

"It is the last 16, a cup draw, so it is always tight. We have 180 minutes where we have to be on top and no-one can predict what will happen. We will try to do our best.''

With Arshavin and Eduardo both unavailable, Wenger could turn to Nicklas Bendtner to lead the attack. The 22-year-old Denmark striker has just returned to fitness following a three-month lay-off after groin surgery, which was part of the reason the Arsenal manager did not venture into the January transfer market for another forward.

Wenger said: "I think we will see the best of him now as he is getting to the best age for a striker. Of course, he will still improve and learn a lot but, at 22, you have to start to play at the top level.

"Nicklas is a boy who has a big potential. He arrived at the age of 15 and we work very hard with these players to get them to a level where they are today. Of course, we do not believe in a player for four or five years and then suddenly stop because people say you should buy a striker. We have a line of conduct and we keep believing in what we have done up until now and we hope they pay us back.''

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