Gunners plan Sol welcome

Arsene Wenger and Thierry Henry will welcome back Sol Campbell with open arms and help with putting his troubles behind him when he returns to the Arsenal training ground in the early part of next week.

Campbell went AWOL after being substituted at half-time during the Gunners Premier League clash with West Ham at Highbury on Wednesday and he left the stadium before the end of the game.

There has been widespread speculation as to what has been the root of Campbell’s behaviour and reports suggested that he initially intended to quit Arsenal before having a change of heart.

But manager Wenger and skipper Henry will do their best to make the 31-year-old central defender welcome when he drives through the gates of London Colney tomorrow or on Tuesday.

Wenger said: “We will help Sol to bounce back quickly and to focus and concentrate on the game of football which is the best cure.

“I know Sol well enough to know he doesn’t do what he did if he is not really down. But I had a short conversation with Sol on the phone on Friday evening. He sounded okay to me and he will be back on Monday or Tuesday.”

Henry was quick to praise Arsenal’s young and makeshift defence in Campbell’s absence as they triumphed 2-0 at Birmingham but still believes they would be stronger with the presence of the England player.

He said: “Sebastien Larsson has not a lot of experience as a left-back and I don’t know if Mathieu Flamini had ever played right-back apart from the West Ham game.

“You also had two more young players in Philippe Senderos and Johan Djourou in the middle and only Jens Lehmann brought up the age average in that area.

“West Ham took advantage of the situation. You saw against Birmingham with some extra days of work with people what you can do. It was amazing what they did at the back.

“But I just think it is better when Sol is at the back and he always gives you the confidence you need. I will be waiting to welcome him when he comes back next week.”

The big plus for Arsenal was the outstanding form of 19-year-old midfielder Abou Diaby, who was signed in the transfer window from Auxerre, and he could prove to be the long term replacement for Patrick Vieira once he gains more experience.

Wenger said: “He was excellent. He is getting better and better and he has all the kind of qualities you need in the game. He is strong, good on the ball, has a great engine for 90 minutes and is good in the air.

“He looks like he is getting stronger in every game and more confident. I am very surprised how quickly he has adapted because usually it takes a long time.

“Some players take six months to a year and he had played only five games in the French League and came over here and straight away from game to game he just grows even though he is only 19.”

Henry, who scored his 200th goal for The Gunners at St. Andrews, said: “I told people what Abou Diaby was all about before he came to us.

“He can hold the ball and he will do us an amazing job away from home. If you look at the first goal, with his overlapping run and cross, that is what we have been lacking sometimes.

“What he is doing at the moment is amazing and very good for him. I just hope he can be the same player as Patrick Vieira.”

Birmingham were left aggrieved by the sending-off of striker Emile Heskey for two yellow cards and they are now five points adrift of the safety zone despite matching Arsenal for long periods.

Blues manager Steve Bruce said: “We’ve got 15 games left. We need to win five or six of them. We have got a huge month coming up where we have got Middlesbrough, West Brom and Sunderland.

“We have had a tough run in terms of fixtures but we are still in there with a fighting chance and I’ve seen enough over the last six weeks to believe we will get out of trouble.”

Defender Matthew Upson believes his former Arsenal team-mate Henry, who set up the opening goal for newcomer Emmanuel Adebayor, was the difference between the two sides.

He said: “We were never going to get a better chance to get a home win against Arsenal. We started very positively and showed good commitment and desire.

“We were unfortunate not to go ahead in the first 15 minutes. We dominated from set pieces and the ’keeper made a very good save from Jiri Jarosik.

“The only difference in the game was a bit of world class from Henry. His touch and movement for the first goal, his first time ball around the corner. The second goal was a top finish.

“That’s him. He drifts in an out of play. Sometimes you watch him and think ’how does he get all the accolades?’ He just shows different bits of class and composure.”

REFS REPORT – Mike Riley was responsible for handing out the seventh red card to a Birmingham player this season but Emile Heskey can justifiably feel hard done by. Television replays indicated he had his eye on the ball and there was clearly no intent when he collided with Philippe Senderos and Mathieu Flamini for two bookable offences.

FUSSY FACTOR – Riley failed to allow the game to flow and there was too much of a stop-start nature to proceedings.

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