Captain Fabregas ruled out of Carling Cup final

ARSENAL captain Cesc Fabregas faces a race to be fit for next month’s emotional homecoming Champions League clash at Barcelona after admitting defeat in his quest to play in Sunday’s Carling Cup final.

Fabregas was last night ruled out of leading the Gunners at Wembley as they go in search of a first trophy for six years owing to the hamstring injury he sustained early in Wednesday’s Premier League victory over Stoke.

But the Spain midfielder was offered hope that he could recover for the return leg of the last-16 tie with his former club Barca at Camp Nou on Tuesday 8 March by manager Arsene Wenger’s assessment.

“It is a very small injury but certainly Cesc will be out for Sunday. For how long I don’t know but definitely for Sunday,” said Wenger. “He is disappointed. We all feel sorry and sad for him. The only way we help him now is to win the Carling Cup as he contributed a lot in this competition.”

On whether Fabregas would be fit to protect their first-leg advantage in his native Catalonia, Wenger added: “It is very difficult to give a deadline. It is impossible.”

Winger Theo Walcott looks likely to miss the Barcelona trip after Wenger admitted his ankle sprain, also sustained against Stoke, would need another “one or two weeks” to heal. Those two aside, Wenger has an almost full squad to choose from against Birmingham after Robin van Persie, Laurent Koscielny and Abou Diaby were all passed fit.

TACTICS | WHO’LL REPLACE CESC

Wenger could replace Fabregas by switching Samir Nasri into the centre, drafting in fit-again Abou Diaby or going for the more conservative Denilson, with Jack Wilshere pushed further upfield. Nasri looks the most likely option given how he has thrived in his skipper’s absence this season: in nine games without Fabregas in the side he has scored nine times, but netted just five in 20 when they have played together. Yet Wenger could be tempted to pick Diaby, who would add muscle to midfield and allow Nasri to stay on the left, with Andrey Arshavin right of Robin van Persie.