Vermaelen: We can cope without Fabregas

LONDON - The loss of injured captain and top scorer Cesc Fabregas will not prevent Arsenal from maintaining a push for the Premier League title, the club's Belgian defender Thomas Vermaelen has said.

Fabregas came off the bench with the match deadlocked at 0-0 against Aston Villa on Sunday and the Spaniard scored twice in 27 minutes, taking his tally this season to 12, to inspire a 3-0 win before limping off with a recurrence of a hamstring problem.

The injury will keep him out for up to three weeks but Vermaelen told the club website the team could still maintain their push for the title without Fabregas, who he described as "the best midfielder I have ever played alongside".

The Gunners are currently third in the table, seven points behind leaders Chelsea but have two games in hand.

"Cesc is very important for us but it's the same with Robin (van Persie), who is also important for us but they're injured and we have to do it without them," he said. "I think we have other good midfielders who can fill that gap."

Vermaelen, who has also scored five goals this season added: "He's really smart in his game and in training if you play against him he's really difficult to defend against because I think he has eyes in the back of his head. He sees everything.

"He is a good captain too. He has a lot of qualities in football and I think that's important for a captain. He talks in the dressing room, not too much but just enough."

Since losing 3-0 to Chelsea at the end of November, Arsenal have won four of their last five league matches and drawn once.

They have the chance to close the gap on Chelsea when they visit bottom-of-the-table Portsmouth on Wednesday.