By Jim van Wijk
ARSENE WENGER declared today’s Premiership showdown with Bolton as "much more important" than the Champions League clash with Real Madrid, as the Arsenal boss faced a defensive crisis following an injury set-back for Sol Campbell.
There is growing belief in the Gunners’ camp they can claw back the deficit on both Liverpool and Tottenham to force their way into the top four, and with it secure qualification for next season’s elite club competition.
But Wenger’s men head into a run of matches which could shape the outcome of their season without three key defenders in Campbell, Ashley Cole and Lauren, who will miss the rest of the campaign after knee surgery.
Arsenal will at least be boosted by the return of Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Eboue from African Nations Cup duty with runners-up Ivory Coast for the trip to Spain.
But for now, all that Wenger is focussed on is securing a Premiership victory over the side which knocked the holders out of the FA Cup at the Reebok Stadium last month.
"At the moment the most important thing is to win tomorrow," the Arsenal boss declared. "At the moment I don’t care about Real Madrid.
"It is much more important to come back. Even Liverpool are only five points away from us and Tottenham are four points away and we have a game in hand. That is much more important than Real Madrid at the moment."
Campbell returned to training on Monday after taking time off following his disappointing first-half display against West Ham, when he had been substituted at the break and immediately left Highbury.
Arsenal won at Birmingham last week without the veteran centre-half, but Wenger had hoped a fit and focussed Campbell would bolster his options at the back tomorrow.
However, after aggravating a foot problem, the 31-year-old will now face a further spell out of contention.
"It is bone bruising," said the Arsenal manager. "He will be out for two to three weeks. He will be out for tomorrow, for Tuesday against Liverpool and for Real Madrid."
The Arsenal manager rejected suggestions there were any ulterior motives behind Campbell’s absence.
Wenger insisted: "It was completely accidental. He was focused, very happy to train and his state of mind is good.
"He was disappointed he let us down against West Ham and was determined to come back."