Wenger set to back kids for fresh title challenge
It looks increasingly likely, that after a season made up largely of disappointment and missed opportunities, Arsene Wenger will refrain from spending big in the summer, instead opting to promote more promising talent from within the club
By Jem Maidment
It looks increasingly likely, that after a season made up largely of disappointment and missed opportunities, Arsene Wenger will refrain from spending big in the summer, instead opting to promote more promising talent from within the club's ranks.
The Arsenal manager has hinted strongly that despite an estimated £25m war-chest to rebuild his side, he feels the tools and talent for a genuine title tilt next season are already plying their trade on the Shenley training pitches.
"The problem is that because we have had a disappointing season, everybody wants you to buy," said Wenger as the Gunners ended the season with a drab 0-0 draw at Portsmouth on Sunday.
"I have to really think if that is needed or not because there is an element in our team that they will progress because they are young. Also, what do I need to add, if I do need to add something?
"I will do what I feel is right for the team and for the club but the situation is not always to buy.
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"Manchester United let Ruud van Nistelrooy go, they bought only Michael Carrick and now they have won the Premiership.
"We will be ready to go [for the title] next season if we have the right mixture.
"We need to find a better balance in our team in some positions, then we will be ready."
The boss has repeatedly denied Michael Owen - a player who would top many fans' wish-lists as they have watched chance after chance squandered at The Emirates this season - is a summer target, despite reputedly being available for a knockdown £9m.
It is a rumour that won't go away, but Wenger says he is already oversubscribed with striking talent, although the time has surely come to dispose of the perennially underachieving Jeremie Aliadiere.
The Frenchman is the second longest serving player at the club but has been loaned out several times during his time in north London.
Wenger was willing to release him permanently to Wolves in the January window, but the Black Country side could not raise the funds to secure the deal.
Julio Baptista's future is also in doubt. The Brazilian - a figure of derision among many Arsenal supporters, mirroring the fans back in his native Sao Paulo - has failed to impress despite occasional glimpses of magic, notably a four-goal haul in a stunning 6-3 Carling Cup win at Liverpool in January.
Real Madrid will make a decision on him and on-loan Jose Antonio Reyes' future once the Primera Liga season is finished. They currently lead Barca at the top of the table and have told Wenger they do not want any distractions.
Wenger, though, says there is little chance of Reyes returning to England. Nicklas Bendtner, who has returned to Arsenal after an exceptional season on-loan at Birmingham City in the Championship, is being tipped within the club to earn a squad number and crack at first team action next season.
And Academy coach Steve Bould's under-18s - who reached the FA Youth Cup semi-final - are also burgeoning with talented youngsters who have caught Wenger's eye.
Bould is known to be particularly impressed with the England under-16 skipper Henri Lansbury. The Enfield-born midfielder is one of the brightest talents in youth football, along with fellow midfielder Mark Randall - handed the No 43 shirt by Wenger last summer.
Defenders Gavin Hoyte - brother of Justin - and Edmonton-born Paul Rodgers, who was excellent in that youth cup run, particularly in both legs of the semi-final against United's highly-rated striker Fabien Brandy, have also impressed.
And Spaniard Fran Merida, who signed a long-term professional contract in March, is also a player who has made a big impression on the coaching staff.
In addition, the youthful side fielded in the Carling Cup run this season impressed the country with a string of stunning performances.
As well as that win at Anfield, a 3-1 demolition of a full-strength Spurs side in the semi-final second-leg at The Emirates ranks as one of the highlights of the season.
Left-back Armand Traore, still only 17, Brazilian Denilson and Theo Walcott, recovering from injury, will all push for regular first team places next term.
But there is still a sense that some youngsters have been allowed to leave too early in the past.
Steve Sidwell's impending move to Chelsea from Reading and Jermaine Pennant's forthcoming Champions League final appearance with Liverpool underlines the talent that has left, although the latter's frequent off-field problems - despite being an exemplary trainer - forced Wenger's hand.
David Bentley's form at Blackburn Rovers, while Fredrik Ljungberg has had his most wretched season in red-and-white after eight years with the club, will also have been spotted by Wenger.
How Bentley's goals, guile and guts - this week he asked not to be considered for future England under-21 matches as he feels he should be promoted to the seniors - could also have made a significant difference in tight affairs at The Emirates this season.
Wenger's faith in the club's youth policy is admirable, bordering on extraordinary. Next season, his last for the club as things stand unless he signs the new contract sitting on his desk, could be pivotal for both manager and club.