Football

Duo face final fitness fight

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Robin van Persie and Laurent Koscielny have been ruled out of Arsenal's crucial game against Stoke, but both could return for Sunday's Carling Cup final against Birmingham.

The Gunners head to Wembley looking to win their first trophy since they beat Manchester United on penalties to lift the 2005 FA Cup. Manager Arsene Wenger left Van Persie out of the 1-1 draw against Leyton Orient in the FA Cup and revealed that the 27-year-old, and Koscielny, would miss Wednesday's Premier League clash with Stoke.

"We do not have Van Persie available or Koscielny and (Thomas) Vermaelen has a long-term (Achilles) injury," Wenger told Arsenal TV Online.

"Van Persie has a hamstring problem and Koscielny has a back problem but they both have a chance to be involved on Sunday."

One crumb of comfort for Wenger is the return of the in-form Johan Djourou, who has recovered from a back injury and will partner Sebastien Squillaci in central defence.

"Johan Djourou missed out on Sunday but he is better and will play Wednesday," Wenger added.

Wenger's side beat Barcelona at the Emirates Stadium last week but were brought swiftly down to earth against League One side Orient on Sunday.

Nevertheless, the Gunners know that a return to winning ways against Stoke will see them close the gap on leaders Manchester United to just one point in the first match in a gruelling schedule which could see them play six times in 17 days.

Arsenal have lost three times at home this year - more than any other team in the top six - and Wenger thinks their form at the Emirates could prove decisive in their push to win their first title in seven years.

"We know we are in a strong position," the 61-year-old said. "The players know that at home our results will have a vital importance to have a chance to win the title. The focus will be natural, this team wants to win every single game and the players are disappointed after the Leyton Orient result."

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Topics:
Arsenal
Robin Van Persie
Stoke City
Football
Sebastien Squillaci
Johan Djourou
League One
League Cup
Premier League
Manchester United
Birmingham
Laurent Koscielny
FA Cup
Leyton Orient
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