LONDON COLNEY, England (AFP) - Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has said the absence of captain Cesc Fabregas cannot be used as an excuse by the Gunners when they face Porto in their Champions League clash on Tuesday.
The Premier League side, 2-1 down from the first leg of their last 16 tie in Portugal, suffered a fresh setback on Monday when Spain midfielder Fabregas was ruled out with a hamstring problem.
Fabregas missed training on Monday because of a right hamstring injury that saw him limp off after scoring in the 3-1 league win over Burnley on Saturday.
It is the same injury that sidelined Fabregas at the turn of the year.
"Cesc is ruled out," Wenger told reporters at Arsenal's training ground here on Monday.
"He has a hamstring problem and we could not even take a gamble with him," the Frenchman added.
"Ideally we wanted him to be there but we want to qualify and the absence of Cesc is no excuse at all.
"We have enough players and a strong enough squad to get round that and have enough chances to qualify."
Fabregas is Arsenal's leading scorer this season with 17 goals but Wenger said the risk of playing him against Porto was too great.
"We don't know how long he will be out. He is having a scan today (Monday). He has a small chance of getting back for next weekend against Hull, but to play him again (on Tuesday) would mean significant damage."
Arsenal, who've never been crowned champions of Europe, have plenty of injuries to contend with, aside from Fabregas's hamstring, ahead of Tuesday's match at the Emirates Stadium.
Fellow midfielder Aaron Ramsey (broken leg) will miss the rest of the season while William Gallas has a calf problem and will not return until next week.
Robin van Persie is still out with ankle ligament damage and Kieran Gibbs is also out with a broken foot.
It's almost 30 years since the Gunners, who lost the 2006 Champions League final to Barcelona, overturned a first-leg defeat in Europe, but Wenger believes veteran defender Sol Campbell's away goal in Portugal could prove vital in turning the tie around.
"We have scored away from home which is still a massive advantage, and that's why we are confident we can do it," Wenger said.
And his faith extends to misfiring Danish striker Nicklas Bendtner.
The 22-year-old failed to convert several fine chances against Burnley, a side battling to avoid relegation from English football's top flight, but Wenger reckons Bendtner could yet help guide Arsenal into the Champions League quarter-finals.
"He has good mental strength and even if he was disappointed with the chances he missed, it will not diminish his desire and confidence going into the next game," Wenger said.
Wenger will replace Polish goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski, who gifted Porto two goals in the first leg, with Manuel Almunia.
The Spaniard, who will also captain the side in place of Fabregas and Gallas, claims he is now back to his best after a difficult six months.
Almunia was struck down by a stomach bug in September which robbed him of his place in the Arsenal side and the 32-year-old was then told his mother-in-law had been killed in a car crash in Spain.
He has since come to terms with his grief and has volunteered to be a father-figure to any of the club's youngsters.
"At that time, I was very low, not very strong to continue, but I took my time and now I am ready again," Almunia said.
"Every person, every player has had experiences, where the next day you have to wake up and continue working, getting on with your life.
"This squad is very young, and if anybody needs help, I am here for them."
|52||N. Bendtner||10' 25' 44' 90+1'|
|Coach: A. Wenger|
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