Fabregas back for London derby

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LONDON, March 19 – Influential Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas is set to return against West Ham at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday as the Gunners' quest for their first Premier League title in six years begins to gather momentum.The mercurial Spaniard returns after missing two games with a hamstring problem while fellow midfielder Tomas Rosicky should also be in line for selection following a groin injury.

Cameroon midfielder Alex Song is also back in contention after serving a two-game domestic ban but Gunners boss Arsene Wenger expressed concern over the continued absence of experienced France defender William Gallas.

"Gallas will not be available this week or at Birmingham," the Frenchman said. "It is going on and on. It is a concern."

"It is an endless calf strain and so we need Sol Campbell and Mikael Silvestre to be highly ready to help us out," he added.

Arsenal sneaked up almost unnoticed to become serious challengers after they were written off last month following back-to back losses against title rivals Chelsea and Manchester United which left them nine points off the pace.

A string of five consecutive league wins coupled with defeats for the top two mean that the Gunners are now just two points behind United and on equal points with their London rivals Chelsea, albeit having played a game more.

Wenger will be confident his team can take maximum points from a relatively easy run in while both Chelsea and United have to play Liverpool and each other before the end of the season.

Saturday’s teams have met twice already this season with the Hammers coming back from two goals down to grab a point in the league encounter and Arsenal triumphing in the third round of the FA Cup.

One of the scorers that day was 19-year-old Aaron Ramsey, who will not be in the running after sustaining a horrific broken leg in last month’s win at Stoke.

The Hammers are under intense pressure of a different nature after being drawn back into the relegation battle following a thumping defeat by fierce rivals Chelsea and morale-sapping losses against Bolton and Manchester United.

The east Londoners still have a three-point cushion over the bottom three but could see that vanish if they lose at the Emirates on Saturday.

Popular manager Gianfranco Zola made a surprise selection last week when he left out his two top scorers, Carlton Cole and Alessandro Diamanti, for their trip to Stamford Bridge.

"I believe when we play away from home I need quicker players, somebody that can help defensively and at the same time break quickly," Zola explained, raising the question of whether he will stick to the same plan on Saturday.

The former Chelsea man played down speculation that Cole’s recurring knee injury was a serious problem, despite the England man only training twice last week.

"After certain games he might need to take a bit more rest," Zola added. "It’s not a big deal, it isn’t a big issue."

The Londoners Thursday parted company with defender Calum Davenport who has not played since being stabbed in the legs last October.

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