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Wenger's recipe for success

Arsene Wenger
Wenger has made just one summer signing, the 23-year-old Belgian centre-half Thomas Vermaelen from Ajax

By David Ornstein

If the doomsayers are to be believed, Arsenal might as well throw in the towel before the 2009-10 Premier League season has even kicked off.

Without a major trophy since 2005, criticised for their reliance on youth, accused of failing to strengthen and tipped to finish outside the top four for the first time since 1996, you could be forgiven for thinking the Gunners are about to implode.

But try telling that to Arsene Wenger.

The Arsenal boss remains unflinching in his belief that his team will outdo the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Aston Villa by finishing the forthcoming campaign as champions.

"I envisage only one order," the 59-year-old told BBC Sport. "That is Arsenal finishing on top and all the rest can do what they want.

"To rate our potential, look at our pre-season games. We are a team who has a way to play and we are a team who are ready to fight.

606: DEBATE
InsaneGOONER

"Let's have a go. Let's not talk too much. We know that people are sceptical about us but I let people talk. Let's win the games."

Wenger was speaking ahead of Arsenal's 2-0 defeat by Valencia - their final friendly before starting the Premier League season at Everton on Saturday.

Such results can often be misleading but if Wenger wants his side's potential to be judged on their pre-season performances, familiar conclusions will be drawn.

Arsenal possess a plethora of attacking options, with creativity and goals unlikely to be a problem. Yet their defence continues to look suspect and the absence of a top-class ball-winning central midfielder remains glaringly obvious.

It is interesting to note that since the Gunners won the 2005 FA Cup, their last serious piece of silverware, the average height of the team has decreased by more than three inches per player.

Wenger's current squad is, on average, an inch shorter and half a stone lighter than those of Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool - all of whom seem to have followed the example set by Arsenal's title-winning team of 2004 by combining pace and technique with physical power and aggression.

Arsenal's squad is also far younger than those of their rivals and eyebrows were raised in November when Cesc Fabregas was named captain at the age of 21.

Towards the end of last season, Wenger suggested he planned to recruit players with experience but, to date, his only summer signing is the 23-year-old Belgian centre-half Thomas Vermaelen.

With Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Adebayor leaving for Manchester City, and Philippe Senderos in talks with Everton, it is hardly surprising that Wenger has hinted he may sign "one or two players more".

But when asked whether he thought Arsenal - in their current guise with no further signings - were better than the other teams challenging for the title, the Frenchman replied: "We are; I'm convinced of that.

"A team which averages 28 or 29 years old can maybe improve by 5% but a team averaging 22 years old can improve by 30%.

"Will we achieve that or not? That's always a question mark and it's very difficult to rate before the season has started.

"But I'm very confident because we have quality, we have attitude, we have talent and we have ambition. I am confident we will do very well and hopefully we will surprise many people."

After paying up to £10m for Vermaelen, the sales of Toure and Adebayor saw Arsenal pocket £39m and Wenger insists all of that money is available to spend.

A night without a game of football on television leaves me a little bit disillusioned. England is a good country because it gets dark early in winter, you go home and you're in an environment where you want to watch television

Arsene Wenger

But he seems intent on proving you can conquer the world without investing heavily and says he will only buy "if we find better players than the ones we have already and at the moment we haven't found any".

Since the summer of 2004, Arsenal's net transfer spending puts them around £25m in credit, while Manchester United have a deficit of £64.5m, Liverpool £83.8m and Chelsea £106m.

Wenger prides himself on the idea of safeguarding Arsenal's financial future and often asks interrogators to try naming another club who have built a new stadium and find themselves challenging for top honours in domestic and European football while also clearing debts, returning a profit and developing their own players.

And that brings him on to a favourite subject - the glut of young English players coming through the ranks at Arsenal.

In February 2005 Wenger named a squad featuring no English player for a 5-1 win against Crystal Palace, and was lambasted by sections of the public, media and footballing authorities who claimed he was damaging the national team's long-term prospects.

But last season Steve Bould's under-18s won the Premier Academy League and FA Youth Cup with a squad made up of numerous home-grown talents, most notably the 17-year-old midfielder Jack Wilshere.

"Jack Wilshere has the potential to be a great player but he has it all to do," said Wenger. "I believe he will, I believe Theo (Walcott) will be a great player and I think Kieran Gibbs will be a great player.

Jack Wilshere
For once England cannot reproach me for not dealing with English players - maybe in the end we will have more players in the national team than any other club

Arsene Wenger

"We have a few coming behind as well - look at the team who won the Youth Cup convincingly last year with Jay Thomas, Sanchez Watt, Henri Lansbury and Gavin Hoyte. We have many players coming behind.

"For once England cannot reproach me for not dealing with English players. Maybe in the end we will have more players in the national team than any other club."

Such prospects help maintain Wenger's motivation to continue as Arsenal manager for the foreseeable future.

At a hostile question and answer session with shareholders in May, Wenger faced some fierce criticism from supporters unhappy with the club's progress in recent seasons.

Wenger responded by admitting that if Arsenal did not end their trophy drought in the next "one or two years" his strategy for the club would have failed, and it was not lost on those in attendance that he might have been referring to 2011, the year in which his current contract expires.

But, for now at least, Wenger does not sound like his is ready to walk away from the Emirates Stadium and seems happy with life in England - even if his wife Annie has to put up with a football-obsessed husband.

"I feel like I arrived yesterday," added Wenger, who plans to switch his formation to 4-3-3 for this season. "My obsession is always on how we will play in the next game and what I will do tomorrow to get a good game from my players.

"You always have good reasons to be disillusioned or disenchanted but our job is to help other people to make a career, to make something of their life and that target is always exactly the same.

"A night without a game of football on television leaves me a little bit disillusioned. England is a good country because it gets dark early in winter, you go home and you're in an environment where you want to watch television.

"That's always a pleasure - I got that from a very young age and I will keep that my whole life. My wife understands my passion and is ready to pay the price."


Wenger was speaking to BBC Sport's Jacqui Oatley at the launch of Arsenal's Charity of the Season. Arsenal aim to raise £500,000 to rebuild the Lung Function Unit at Great Ormond Street Hospital for children. More details at www.beagoonerbeagiver.org



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see also
Fabregas eyes Arsenal fightback
05 Aug 09 |  Arsenal
Gunners lack leadership - Toure
02 Aug 09 |  Arsenal
Adebayor finalises Man City move
18 Jul 09 |  Man City
Wenger pleads for fans' patience
15 May 09 |  Arsenal
Wenger will have money to invest
14 May 09 |  Arsenal
Wenger vows to strengthen squad
10 May 09 |  Arsenal
Arsenal name Fabregas as captain
24 Nov 08 |  Arsenal
Wenger backs non-English line-up
15 Feb 05 |  Arsenal
Arsenal set new standards
15 May 04 |  Arsenal


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