Arsène Wenger has always been an advocate of throwing his youngsters in as early as possible but with the season not even started he no longer has a choice. The Arsenal manager admitted yesterday that he could start the teenager Aaron Ramsey in tonight's Champions League qualifier first leg against FC Twente after Cesc Fabregas succumbed to injury on Monday.
Desperate times as the Arsenal manager conceded that it is his most difficult start to a season yet with Fabregas, Philippe Senderos, Kolo Touré and Samir Nasri all injured. His Spanish midfielder is out for the next two weeks to add a touch of foreboding to the start of the season. With Tomas Rosicky, Abou Diaby and Eduardo Da Silva all out already, and Alexander Song at the Olympics, it is shaping up to be an epic Arsenal injury and absentee list.
Even so, against Steve McClaren's team even Wenger's young players will be expected to do the job in Arnhem – to where the Dutch club have switched tonight's tie. For Ramsey, 17, and bought for £5m from Cardiff City this summer despite the interest of Manchester United, it promises to be a taste of the first team a little earlier than he could have expected.
Wenger was circumspect in his assessment of Ramsey who clearly still has a lot to prove to his manager after a few months at the club. "He [Ramsey] has a lot to learn, I believe he has the ingredients to become a good player," Wenger said. "He has a fantastic engine, he has a good build, he has a reasonable technique although I think he has to improve that. He has to improve the defensive aspect of his game, the positioning on the pitch."
It was what Wenger described as the "very big engine" that impressed him about Ramsey who might already have played on the wing for his hometown rugby club Caerphilly but seems unlikely to repeat the feat for Arsenal. "I don't think he has the tricks to play wide," Wenger said. "I don't think he will because it doesn't look to me that he has the dribbling skills."
Asked whether he was being forced to put his faith in his young players, Wenger replied: "I don't have much choice. It's a young one or a younger one." The smile suggested that he is just about as confident as a manager can be faced with those odds and, regardless of the circumstances, there will be a chance to repair any damage in the home leg in two weeks' time. Nevertheless, no team would want to lose to McClaren in his first competitive game since England's Euro 2008 qualifying defeat to Croatia in November. If Wenger does not start Ramsey then Emmanuel Eboué in the centre is his more experienced, if unorthodox, option.
"It's the most problematic start numbers-wise," Wenger said. "If you consider at the moment we have Song at the Olympics, we have Diaby, Rosicky, Nasri, Fabregas, Eduardo, Senderos and Kolo out. You can see that our squad is not as short as that [when they are all fit]. I have said many times we are short of one player and I hope I will be capable of doing something this week or before the transfer deadline."
Wenger said that the problem with Fabregas had been the club's eagerness to bring his fitness up to scratch over a shorter pre-season. "I'm not panicking because we have worked very hard with these young players to build them up. [Johann] Djourou for example will play: if he cannot play one game like this one then we are wasting our time."
He beat McClaren's Middlesbrough team 7-0 the last time the two managers met but apart from that, Wenger has always resisted the temptation to join in the general bullying of the former England manager. "He has done something similar to what Bobby Robson did," Wenger said. "After his time with England he went to Holland and it is a good way of restarting your career. It's good as well to position yourself as an international coach.
"He has moved away and I think it's bold. When you go abroad you need to convince people that you can do the job. When you go to a foreign country, it's always expected that you do better than the local people. The expectation level is always higher."
Tonight was arguably, Wenger said, the most important game of the season because there is no task more crucial than qualifying for the Champions League with £20m-plus at stake in the group stages. As for new signings Wenger said he was "close to a few" and he also had the last word on whether Thierry Henry was a serious target for Manchester United. "I don't believe that," he said. "Because if he comes back to England, he comes back to Arsenal."
Arsenal (probable, 4-4-2): Almunia; Sagna, Djourou, Gallas, Clichy; Eboué, Denilson, Ramsey, Walcott; Adebayor, Van Persie.
FC Twente (probable, 4-5-1): Boschker; Wilkshire, Wielaert, Douglas, Braafheid; Tiote, Brama, Janssen, Denneboom, Arnautovic; Elia
Referee: A Undiano Mallenco (Spain)Reuse content