Questions asked as flaws appear in Wenger's young Gunners policy

BY JEM MAIDMENT Serious questions are beginning to be asked about Arsene Wenger s long-term policy of developing talented youth players over big-money, experienced signings. With no trophies in three years and Arsenal s Premier League title challenge apparently in tatter

Serious questions are beginning to be asked about Arsene Wenger's long-term policy of developing talented youth players over big-money, experienced signings.

With no trophies in three years and Arsenal's Premier League title challenge apparently in tatters after last Saturday's 2-1 loss at Stoke, frustration is setting in.

Reading the various Arsenal web forums this week - before the disappointing 0-0 draw against Fenerbahce - Wenger's position, in the eyes of the more biased Arsenal followers, as God's representative on Earth, is clearly under review.

"It's no longer a case of 'Wenger Knows', as one disgruntled fan offered, "It's more like 'Wenger Knew'."


With the visit of reigning Premier League and European champions Manchester United - a fine mix of youth team promotions and astronomic transfers - on the horizon, a timely win on Saturday would ease the pressure on the under-fire Frenchman.

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Wenger constantly maintains his side have mental strength in abundance, but there was very little on show in the Potteries.

Former Arsenal striker Perry Groves was at the Britannia Stadium last Saturday watching his old club out-muscled as they slipped to their third league defeat of the campaign.

Groves, an astute observer who is never one to mince his words, was scathing.

"If you looked at Stoke's team, how many players would get into our side? On ability, none. On desire, they probably all would," was his damning assessment.

"Nobody was prepared to put his hand up and take responsibility and do the ugly side of the game.

"We are in grave danger now of our season drifting away. Is Arsene Wenger going to go out in the transfer window and give us impetus? I don't know.

"We are staring into the abyss at the moment."

At last month's annual meeting, it was noticeable Wenger's policy was also openly being questioned by shareholders - almost unheard of since his arrival in 1996.

The Frenchman shuffled uncomfortably as one frustrated season ticket holder criticised the lack of silverware coming into the club. And the lack of fight.

Aesthetically pleasing, and with an ability to outplay any side in Europe, when it comes to the rough and tumble of the lower end of the Premier League, those old questions of a lack of spine have resurfaced yet again.

Former manager George Graham predicted as much back in August when he spoke exclusively to Ham&High Series Sport.

"Am I concerned and do I think the squad needs strengthening? Yes on both counts," the 65-year-old Scot told us.

"If I'm being honest I am surprised there has not been more transfer activity. The club needs new players.

"I would certainly be looking for a new goalkeeper, a top drawer centre-back and a big, strong - I mean mentally and physically - midfielder too. That's just for a start."

Those fans' forums have been red-hot all week, echoing Graham's views.

Elliot Segal, writing on the Online Gooner, moaned: "...make no bones about it, we will get hammered by Manchester Utd if we play like that on Saturday. I hope we don't but it could be embarrassing... the team need a new goalkeeper, centre half, battling central midfielder and a striker.

"The warning now is pretty obvious, carry on like this and we won't finish in the top four."

Hysterical reaction? Some may say so, but at the beginning of the season Arsenal fans were expecting Wenger's side to enter this weekend, and their first meeting with another of the Big Four, unbeaten.

Three defeats to vastly inferior opponents from Fulham, Hull City and Stoke, were clearly not in the plan.

In contrast, exactly 12 months ago this week Arsenal were unbeaten in 27 and had just gone top of the Premier League, courtesy of a superb 3-1 win at Reading.

The Gunners are still dangerously poised, just six points off league leaders Chelsea and with all the top sides still to play home and away, and Wenger has always maintained it is results against the big clubs that matter - not those against the lesser sides.

Wenger himself admitted this week that they were three defeats too many, especially after what on paper appeared to be a relatively easy start to the season.

Emmanuel Adebayor (ankle), the club's leading scorer, will also miss out against United while Theo Walcott (shoulder) remains a doubt.

"I don't know how many more defeats we can afford," said a beleaguered Wenger. "It's very difficult to say.

"We first have to win our next game and we have a chance again when we play Manchester United this Saturday.

"There is no better game in which to come back from a defeat and from a confidence point of view. It will also give us a chance to show we have quality.

"Is it a game we can't afford to lose? What manager would tell you they can afford to lose a game? You can never afford to lose but we just want to win."