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By ESPN Staff

Szczesny: I'll be better than ever

Wojciech Szczesny insists he will return from injury "stronger than ever'' as Arsene Wenger weighs up whether to place Arsenal's Premier League title hopes in the hands of veteran Jens Lehmann.

Young Poland goalkeeper Szczesny is expected to be sidelined for around six weeks with a finger problem which saw him replaced inside 20 minutes at Camp Nou, where the Gunners saw their Champions League dreams ended by Barcelona.

It was an unexpected turn of events which would eventually lead to 41-year-old Lehmann answering an SOS from Wenger, who was left with Manuel Almunia as his only fit senior keeper.

While the Spaniard played well under a Barcelona onslaught, he was involved in a terrible mix-up with stand-in centre-back Sebastien Squillaci as West Brom took a 2-0 lead at The Hawthorns on Saturday, before Arsenal rallied to salvage a draw.

The inability to see off the relegation-battlers allowed Manchester United to extend their lead at the top of the table to five points, albeit having played a match more. Wenger would not be drawn on whether he intended to dump Almunia when the Gunners return to domestic action at home to Blackburn on April 2 in favour of Lehmann, who was part of the Invincibles team of 2003-04.

Should all go well with his recovery, Szczesny could well be in contention to face United in a crunch showdown at Emirates Stadium on May 1. The 20-year-old Pole revealed he is set for a testing spell watching from the sidelines.

"If you lose a game, you can pick yourself up as you know you have another one in a few days and need to recover - but when you are injured, you cannot just miraculously come back, you know it will take some time to get fit and you won't actually have a game for a few weeks, so that is the biggest challenge,'' Szczesny told the April edition of the official Arsenal magazine. "But I am confident I will get through it and come back stronger than ever.''

Despite his involvement in the dramatic late defensive mix-up which gifted Birmingham the Carling Cup at Wembley, it has certainly been a breakthrough season for Szczesny. After returning from a productive loan spell at Brentford, he agreed a new long-term contract in November and went on to make his Premier League debut against Manchester United at Old Trafford.

Many feel Szczesny, 21 next month, has what it takes to become Arsenal's regular first choice.

"If you told me before the season started that it would go like this, I probably would not have believed you,'' he said. "I was confident I could live up to expectations, but I did not expect it to happen as fast as this. I am enjoying it - and it is not like I was thrown in at the deep end and could not cope with it, because I think I am dealing quite well with the pressure.''

Arsenal now have to wait a fortnight before they can continue the quest to end a six-year trophy drought, having seen European and FA Cup hopes extinguished in the space of a testing couple of weeks after their Wembley nightmare.

Captain Cesc Fabregas, England forward Theo Walcott and midfielder Alex Song should all have recovered from injury to bolster the squad against Rovers.

Mathematically at least, Wenger's men hold the future of the title in their own hands as victory in each of the remaining nine fixtures would guarantee the title.


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