Vermaelen set for Arsenal comeback
Thomas Vermaelen is poised to make his long-awaited return from injury in Arsenal's reserve match against Manchester United on Thursday.
Vermaelen will line up for the Gunners in the match for the first time since an Achilles injury prompted an eight month stretch on the sidelines. The 25-year-old hasn't played since representing Belgium in a European Championship qualifier with Turkey in September 2010.
It was initially thought he would only be out for a short spell but, after several aborted comeback attempts, he was eventually forced to undergo minor surgery in January in a bid to cure the problem.
Should Vermaelen come through the match unscathed, manager Arsene Wenger may decide to hand him a place in the first team before the end of the season.
Vermaelen has been badly missed by Arsenal this term, especially during the last two months, which has seen their quadruple quest disintegrate. A lack of physical presence and leadership in defence has left the Gunners on the brink of a sixth successive season without silverware.
Meanwhile, Emmanuel Eboue has urged Arsenal's players to show no fear when they attempt to derail United's march towards the Premier League title on Sunday.
Having seen their own championship challenge all but evaporate at Bolton at the weekend, the shoe is now on the other foot for the Gunners, who could blow the championship race wide open by beating United at the Emirates Stadium.
It would also allow Arsenal to keep the pressure on Chelsea for the runners-up spot as they could find themselves six points adrift of Blues by the time they kick-off on Sunday. United will arrive in London full of confidence, having produced one of their best performances of the season to beat Schalke 2-0 in Gelsenkirchen on Tuesday to put one foot in the Champions League final.
They have also won five of their past six meetings with Arsenal, including their last two clashes at the Emirates. But Eboue, who is hoping for a recall having been dropped after needlessly giving away a penalty in the 1-1 draw with Liverpool 10 days ago, insists it would be fatal for the Gunners to consider themselves anything less than United's equals.
"We need to respect them and play our football, don't be scared,'' he told the official Arsenal Vodcast. "Play our football and we will see after the game.''
The game could be one of Eboue's last in an Arsenal shirt if reports are to be believed. The Ivorian defender is said to be one of several players in danger of being moved on following what is set to be another trophyless season for the club.
Should he earn a recall on Sunday, he may square off against the most decorated player in the history of English football, Ryan Giggs. Despite having turned 37 this season, United midfielder Giggs remains one of the most influential players at Old Trafford and could yet add another two major trophies to his collection.
Eboue said: "When he plays, it is like he is 20 because he's everywhere, he runs everywhere. So you have to be careful about him.''