Football: Wenger to put accent on youth

Arsenal 2 Leicester City 0
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The Independent Online
After a performance pleasingly imbued with the virtues of the new regime, Arsene Wenger suddenly started espousing Highbury's old world values. "We want to have a structure for our wages that is respected, that has logic," the Arsenal manger said sounding suspiciously like George Graham five years ago.

The day began with Arsenal linked to another expensive foreigner, this time Milan's Roberto Baggio. Wenger issued not only a specific denial, but also a general statement of intent. Baggio would not be coming because, "I don't want to sign the same sort of player as Dennis [Bergkamp], because it would kill both of them. It has no history of working".

But even if Baggio was the right player, he was the wrong age - 30 last month - and, perhaps, the wrong nationality. Of Wenger's three significant recruits - Vieira, Anelka or Manninger - Vieira is the oldest at 21 and with eight thirtysomethings in his side, the Frenchman is concentrating on the youth market. "When you spend a lot of money for a player who is 32, you know you will never get something back," he said.

Money also affected where players would be signed from. The problem, said Wenger, was the wages demanded by those who played in Italy. Including George Weah (31 in October), he was asked. "Including Weah."

Wenger was less specific about Paul Ince, but hinted that Arsenal might find it difficult matching an enormous offer from elsewhere. "Some people are crazy, and we don't have to be crazy."

Like Graham half an age ago, Wenger is particularly concerned about the effect an expensive new recruit will have on club morale. "We have a good squad and we want to keep the spirit of the squad, and to keep the spirit of the squad it is important to have logic."

On the other hand he will be aware that Graham reign stalled when he was unable to add a couple of outstanding players to a squad that had won two championships in three years, and there may be more than a touch of kidology as he distanced himself from big-name signings. "Once you give a name out, either you don't get him, or it's too high a price," he confessed with a smile.

One player Wenger is keen to give more money to is Dennis Bergkamp. The Dutchman is half-way through a four-year contract and talks will begin in the summer to induce him to stay for longer. Understandably so, for Bergkamp was again a mesmerising presence in a game in which Arsenal were sporadically superb. He has now scored or created his side's last five goals, the two against Leicester underlining his confidence and vision: a swerving cross for Tony Adams' far-post header and a nicely judged pass for David Platt's excellent finishing shot.

Platt had one of his best games in an Arsenal shirt - no great accolade, admittedly - and for once outplayed Patrick Vieira. Even Platt was eclipsed by another old-stager, though. The autumn of Nigel Winterburn's career is proving longer than most would have imagined, but at 33 he recalled his prime as he charged happily up and down the left touchdown. If only the pace was still there.

As for Leicester, the eight changes they made from last week's cup final side were reflected in a performance that combined work-rate and the second rate. A road sign in one of the genteel streets on the way to Highbury bore the inscription, "Humps for 70 yards." It might have been Leicester's tactical plan.

Goals: Adams 35 (1-0), Platt 66 (2-0)

Arsenal (3-5-2): Seaman; Keown, Adams, Bould; Dixon, Platt, Vieira, Hughes (Parlour, 77), Winterburn; Bergkamp, Wright. Substitutes not used: Lukic (gk), Merson, Marshall, Shaw.

Leicester City (5-3-2): Keller; Lawrence, Hill (Izzet, 63), Elliott, Watts, Whitlow; Taylor (Campbell, 72), Lennon, Guppy; Robins (Claridge, 63), Marshall. Substitutes not used: Poole (gk), Rolling.

Referee: S Lodge (Barnsley).

Bookings: Leicester Watts.

Man of the match: Winterburn. Attendance: 38,044.

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