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Wenger defends selection

STOKE, January 25- Arsene Wenger defended his right to field a weakened team in Arsenal's 3-1 FA Cup fourth round defeat at Stoke and insisted his desire to lift the Premier League title had been behind his decision.Wenger made nine changes at the Britannia Stadium but will recall the likes of William Gallas, Thomas Vermalaen, Gael Clichy, Andrey Arshavin and Eduardo for the crucial league trip to Aston Villa on Wednesday.

This disappointing defeat leaves Wenger still waiting for his first trophy since 2005 but the Frenchman places far more importance on the league.

After the visit to Villa Park, the Gunners – currently two points behind leaders Manchester United with a game in hand – face three more crunch encounters against Sir Alex Ferguson’s champions, then Chelsea and Liverpool.

And Wenger insisted injuries left him with no alternative but to operate a rotation policy ahead of those matches.

He said: "I wanted to win this game and I don’t regret the team I picked, I did not have much choice.

"If you look at our schedule it’s simply that you cannot always play with the same eleven.

"If you rotate and you don’t win it’s your fault. I can only stand up and say that’s the team that I picked.

"It’s unfortunate but we had 10 injuries and we’re going into a period where we cannot rotate a lot in the big games.

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"We’ve got to focus on those games because we are in an interesting position. We didn’t want to go out of the competition. If we’d been at home we could have got away with it.

"You get no surprise when you come here. We weakened the more the game went on and they were more dangerous than us."

The one highlight on an otherwise dismal afternoon for Wenger was an impressive ‘second debut’ for Sol Campbell.

The former England defender – whose last appearance was at Morecambe in his ill-fated spell at Notts County – is likely to be replaced by Gallas for the Villa game but did enough to prove he still has a Premier League future.

Wenger added: "Sol did very well for a guy who’s not played for five months. He was tired for the last 20 minutes but he looked very fit.

"It was an encouraging performance. I believe he is motivated, he works hard in training and he’s been rewarded for that commitment here."

Even with Campbell in the team, Stoke’s Ricardo Fuller proved the scourge of Wenger’s men.

Arsenal couldn’t handle the first exocet throw from Stoke’s Rory Delap and when Lukasz Fabianski flapped, Fuller stole ahead of the Poland international to find the net with a close-range header in the second minute.

The Gunners levelled in the 42nd minute through Denilson. Cesc Fabregas played a free kick outside the box across to the Brazilian midfielder and he arrowed a low drive past Thomas Sorensen, with the aid of two deflections.

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But Fuller headed in Mamady Sidibe’s cross in the closing stages before Dean Whitehead grabbed the third goal four minutes from time to leave Stoke manager Tony Pulis hoping for a home tie in the fifth round.

Pulis said: "We’ve picked a strong side and I don’t think anybody can question the spirit and togetherness in the dressing room.

"I’m proud of the players and the supporters should be too. We’ve given it a right tilt and it’s gone for us.

"The last thing we wanted was a draw. We’ve got seven games in February so it was very important to get a result."

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