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Wenger bullish depite Cesc abscence

HULL, March 12- Arsene Wenger insists Arsenal can overcome the absence of captain Cesc Fabregas and keep their title challenge on track in Saturday's match at Hull.Normally the loss of midfield playmaker Fabregas would represent a major headache for Wenger, who regards the Spain international as the jewel in the Gunners’ crown.

But Arsenal have already prospered without him this week and in some style too, beating Porto 5-0 at the Emirates Stadium on Tuesday to over-turn a 2-1 first-leg deficit and reach the last eight of the Champions League.

Wenger switched Samir Nasri, the France winger, to Fabregas’s central midfield role and watched the gamble pay off.

Nasri gave a virtuoso performance capped by a superb solo goal after setting up Arsenal’s first with a pass Fabragas would have been proud of.

It would be no surprise, therefore, if Nasri was asked to reprise that role at Hull, especially as Tomas Rosicky is an injury doubt.

However, Nasri can expect a hostile reception from the Hull fans and players alike as a result of an incident in Arsenal’s 2-0 win over the Tigers at the Emirates Stadium in December.

Nasri trod on Hull midfielder Richard Garcia’s foot, an action which sparked a brief brawl between players from both sides, although the bad blood between the teams dates back to an FA Cup quarter-final tie the previous season.

On that occasion it was alleged that Fabregas had spat at Hull assistant boss Brian Horton in the tunnel and that Wenger refused to shake the hand of his opposite number, Phil Brown.

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Wenger is adamant that he doesn’t expect anything untoward to happen this time round.

"We do not focus on bad blood," he said. "We just focus on our game and try to play well.

"In fact, if you look at what happened – there was not a lot. Nobody has been injured, there was a little brawl at some stage where we got punished, them as well, but the game was not dirty."

As well as Fabregas, Arsenal will have to do without William Gallas, who has a calf injury, at a time when fellow defenders Sol Campbell and Bacary Sagna are both doubts.

Hull will kick off second from bottom but know that only an inferior goal-difference tally separates them from Burnley and Wolves, the two clubs immediately above them.

Striker Jozy Altidore will be hoping to provide the goals that cause an upset and although the USA international also has the World Cup finals to look forward to, the 20-year-old insists he is only thinking about helping his club beat the drop.

"Nothing is more important for the city and the fans than us staying in the Premier League," he said.

"That is our only challenge right now and that is all we are talking about. The next 10 games for Hull City are crucial."

Brown could make wholesale changes following last week’s 5-1 defeat at Everton but midfielder Jimmy Bullard is set to keep his place.

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The 31-year-old is only just back from a serious knee injury and was taken off early at Goodison Park.

Andy Dawson is set to return at left-back after recovering from an asthma attack while forward Craig Fagan is in contention after completing a one-match ban.

Republic of Ireland winger Stephen Hunt is a doubt because of a foot injury.

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