WIN AND A PRAYER

ARSENAL1 vs STOKE 0

ARSENAL captain Cesc Fabregas last night vowed to win his race to be fit for Sunday’s Carling Cup final after injuries to him and Theo Walcott soured a victory over Stoke that lifted the Gunners to within one point of Premier League leaders Manchester United.

Fabregas (right) was taken off with a hamstring problem moments after Sebastian Squillaci’s eighth minute winner, and Walcott was carried off on a stretcher after spraining his ankle in the second half. The England winger is out of the Wembley showdown with Birmingham but Fabregas is refusing to give up on the chance to lead Arsenal to a first trophy in six years.

“I don’t know if I’ll make Sunday or not, but all I know is that from this moment to Sunday 4pm I won’t sleep if it’s necessary,” the Spain midfielder wrote on Twitter. “I’ve waited too long to captain a final for Arsenal and I won’t give up till the last second.”

Manager Arsene Wenger, who is also sweating on the fitness of striker Robin van Persie and defender Laurent Koscielny, said it was “impossible” to gauge the severity of Fabregas’ injury last night but hoped to know more today, and praised his players for overcoming the injuries to record a valuable, hard-fought win.

“Tonight was a night when nobody else played; if you can take three points and just glide a little bit closer to the top it means your team is really hungry for success,” he said. “We were less sharp creatively but you could feel the team did not want to make a mistake, and that is a very positive sign.”

Stoke pushed hard for an equaliser as the evening grew later and increasingly physical, with the catapulted long throws of Rory Delap a threat, prompting Wenger to suggest, tongue perhaps only slightly in cheek, that “I wonder if we should not change rules a bit”.

The Arsenal chief refused to elaborate fully or criticise Stoke, whose captain Ryan Shawcross was persistently barracked for breaking Aaron Ramsey’s leg last year, but conceded their direct style would prove good practice for a Wembley date with Birmingham.

“It was good practice for Sunday because it was a bit of a cup game,” Wenger added. “Tactically we'll face certainly the same kind of problem as well.” Arsenal started with purpose and Walcott rattled the inside of the post before the inevitable breakthrough came, a deep corner reaching Nicklas Bendtner, who volleyed gently across the face of goal where Squillaci pounced and headed past Asmir Begovic.