According to the Premier League's advertising department, every weekend is hugely pivotal in the title race. Tomorrow, the hyperbole is justified. Manchester United and Arsenal go into their matches, games that could have a marked baring on the destination of the title, each without their most important player.
United have confirmed Wayne Rooney has suffered minor ankle ligament damage, ruling him out for up to a month. Without the striker, who has scored 34 goals this season, their game against Chelsea now has a completely different outlook. With his side a point behind United, Carlo Ancelotti, the Chelsea manager, said: "His injury could be an advantage for us." At least United can expect Rooney back before the end of the season. Cesc Fabregas, the Arsenal captain, was ruled out for the remainder of the Premier League campaign yesterday with a cracked right fibula.
Arsenal, who host Wolves later in the day tomorrow, said the 22-year-old Spanish midfielder is out for at least six weeks with the injury he sustained in the closing stages of Wednesday's 2-2 Champions League quarter-final first leg draw against Barcelona after a tackle by Carles Puyol, the Barcelona captain. It led to a red card for Puyol and Fabregas's penalty strike that clinched a dramatic 2-2 draw after the Spaniards had led 2-0.
Fabregas's World Cup participation is also in doubt. There are six games left in the Premier League season, which ends on May 9, two days before the deadline for national teams to register their provisional 30-man World Cup squads. The squads must be trimmed to a final 23 by June 1 and, with Fabregas only an infrequent starter, Vicente Del Bosque, the Spain coach, may decide to leave out a player who will have been out of action for 11 weeks by the time they play their World Cup opener.
Spain, the European Champions, kick off against Switzerland on June 16 in Durban. With the leaders facing each other at Old Trafford, Arsenal, four points behind United, could close the gap with victory against Wolves. But injury has yet again ravaged Arsene Wenger's side. Apart from Fabregas, Andrey Arshavin will be out for two weeks with calf trouble, while William Gallas limped off too against Barcelona and is out for the season. Arshavin will miss the return leg at the Camp Nou against Barca and the London derby against Tottenham the following weekend.
The loss of Fabregas is the biggest blow for Arsenal. The Spaniard is just about irreplaceable to the Gunners. Samir Nasri showed potential with a match-winning display against Porto in the previous Champions League round when Fabregas was absent, but then disappointed in the following game at Hull. Wenger will hope that Fabregas's injury has not ended his side's trophy chances. At the other end of the table, Gianfranco Zola, the West Ham manager, has defended his decision to fly back to Sardinia and give his players three days off following last week's 1-0 defeat to Stoke.
The loss left the Hammers outside the Premier League relegation zone only by virtue of goal difference. Zola was criticised for flying back to his native Sardinia to take part in filming an advert for the Italian government shortly after the defeat. "The three days off were planned a month ago because we were coming off a busy period and it was a good idea to give some players some time off," Zola said in the London Evening Standard.
"To be honest this is no one else's business but mine as manager. I know what my team need and if I give them a few days rest it is because I believe it is the right thing to do." firstname.lastname@example.org