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English Premiership

Walcott blow as Gunners push

LONDON, February 24 – Arsenal winger Theo Walcott will miss Sunday's League Cup Final against Birmingham after sustaining a sprained ankle in his side's 1-0 win against Stoke at the Emirates.

Captain Cesc Fabregas is also a doubt for the Wembley fixture after suffering a hamstring strain earlier in the same match.

Walcott looked to fall awkwardly under a challenge from Dean Whitehead and was carried off on a stretcher.

The fact the injury was sustained against Stoke, whose defender Ryan Shawcross broke young Arsenal star Aaron Ramsey’s leg on their last visit to the Emirates, was not lost on manager Arsene Wenger.

"We cannot tell how long Theo will be out for but he is definitely out for Sunday," Wenger said. "Theo is disappointed of course. But tonight was the kind of night where nobody else played.

"But we have to face it and we did the job in a very professional way against a Stoke team that defended very well and were very compact.

"We do not know how bad Fabregas’s injury is. It is of course a concern that he is injured, but it is not his fault, it is not my fault, it is part of sport," Wenger added.

Sebastien Squillaci scored the only goal of the match and Wenger was pleased to have kept pace with Manchester United, who are a point ahead of his side at the top of the Premier League table.

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And he added the way they won — without hitting top gear after Fabregas was forced off — was a sign his team have matured.

"We have matured certainly because we could win a game when we were less fluent," he said.

"That has changed from one or two years ago, because when we were not on our top game we would drop points.

"I must give my players a lot of credit for that.

"If you can take advantage of that and get closer to the top then it means your team is really hungry for success.

"The pressure is on all of us, because this is the period where it all starts. Chelsea will be under pressure, Man United will be under pressure.

"But that is part of being in a positon we are in. Three months ago when we lost against Newcastle who would have given a chance to be in the top four?"

Wenger did take issue with Stoke defender Rory Delap and suggested FIFA should change the rules change to make his mammoth throw-ins illegal.

"I wonder if they should not change the rules a little bit because the throw-ins just after half way is in the box, so every time you have to face a danger with Delap.

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"It is very difficult to defend with that and we did it very well. I do not want to say what I think, but it is a problem you face here. You have to be prepared for it," he added.

Stoke manager Tony Pulis admitted his side were "like rabbits in headlights" for the first ten minutes but was left dealing with the same accusations that his team are too physical.

"You can’t stop people’s perception but we have a better disciplinary record than Arsenal. They have had more players sent off and you wouldn’t call them a dirty team," he said.

"It is very difficult shaking it off your shoulders."

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