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Painful realities for Man United, Arsenal

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Painful realities for Man United, Arsenal
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Cesc Fabregas is out for the rest of the Premier League season due to a broken right leg and may miss …

Follow Martin Rogers on Twitter at @mrogersyahoo

Doomsday brought itself to bear upon England's two remaining Champions League participants this week in ways that made a pair of thrilling late goals seem mildly irrelevant.

For Manchester United, the greatest disaster of a wild night that promised so much was not Ivica Olic's late winner for Bayern Munich in the quarterfinal first leg, but the way in which Wayne Rooney hobbled from the pitch moments later.

Likewise, at the Emirates Stadium 24 hours later, Arsenal's late penalty equalizer against Barcelona paled in significance as soon as its scorer, Cesc Fabregas, clutched at a leg with a cracked bone.

Such is the degree which United and Arsenal rely on Rooney and Fabregas, respectively, that this week's events have represented a seismic shift in the balance of power both in the Champions League and the English Premier League title race.

Champions League rankings

1. Barcelona – A level of play that borders on artistry.

2. Lyon – Strong all season and on the verge of the semis.

3. Inter Milan – Sluggish against CSKA but full of confidence.

4. Bayern Munich – Huge late winner against United gives it a real chance.

5. Manchester United – Rooney's absence will be a monumental loss.

6. Arsenal – Hard to see a turnaround at the Camp Nou.

7. CSKA Moscow – Rugged defending in Milan kept them in contention.

8. Bordeaux – Need a dramatic second leg revival.

No two other players in European soccer are seen as being as intrinsic to their team's chances as these men. Not even Lionel Messi, whose technical skills are unsurpassed but whose Barcelona teammates are more capable of coping without him.

It is easy to talk about who needs to step up for United and Arsenal. Dimitar Berbatov will likely deputize for Rooney and players like Nani and Park Ji-Sung will be called upon to up their work rate. Arsenal will hope Denilson can pick up some of the slack created by the Fabregas vacuum. In reality, though, neither side has an alternative that can provide a seamless replacement for their stars.

As good as Rooney and Fabregas make themselves look, they make their clubs and coaches look even better. Rooney's coming of age this season has taken some heat from the Glazer family following the sale of Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid last summer. And the way in which Fabregas has hoisted a somewhat raw Gunners side onto his still-young shoulders has drawn criticism away from boss Arsene Wenger's often infuriating over-reliance on youth.

As is so often the case at the business end of a season that precedes a World Cup, much of the talk is not about points and goal differential, but of joints, tendons and fractures. The news isn't too clever for either Rooney or Fabregas, and the real winners here were Bayern Munich and Barcelona, who will now feel significantly more confident going into their respective second legs.

Rooney is out for up to six weeks, sending shivers down the spine of England chief Fabio Capello and a nation of passionate fans. Fabregas is also out at least six weeks with a cracked bone in his right leg, which got caught up with that of Carlos Puyol and reduced the Arsenal man to a shuffling figure creased up with pain.

The ultimate beneficiaries from all this could be Chelsea, which is out of the Champions League but targeting its first Premiership title since 2006. With a showdown against United at Old Trafford on Saturday and Arsenal still very much in the hunt, the Blues will have drawn strength from both of their bitter rivals suffering such telling blows.

Then there is the small matter of the World Cup, especially if Rooney and Fabregas suffer any kind of complication with their injuries. Rooney is central to England's hopes of success; Fabregas is somewhat less so with Spain.

"To win a World Cup you need a bit of luck," former England striker Alan Shearer said. "England needs some luck. They need to do a lot right – and more than anything they need to have Rooney fit."

When the EPL season comes to its conclusion on May 9 and the Champions League trophy is handed out two weeks later, remember this week – namely the two nights and the two injuries that may have turned a campaign on its head.

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