Arsène Wenger has called for a review of the entire Premier League player loan system, ahead of Arsenal's trip to an Everton side who have moved to within touching distance of fourth in the table on the back of short-term deals. The Goodison Park club are four points behind Arsenal with a game in hand, but largely thanks to the form of three on-loan players – notably Chelsea's Romelu Lukaku.
While Wenger insisted his comments were not intended as an agenda against Everton or Chelsea, he said the current system is "not defendable" if players can't appear against their parent clubs. The Arsenal manager went even further and stated that Premier League sides should only be permitted to strike loan deals with lower-division clubs or those from abroad, but that he still had doubts about the latter due to cases like Chelsea's links to Vitesse Arnhem, whom they use as a farm club, loaning them players.
"Look, I believe if you want to continue the loan system, we have to make them available against the teams that loan them, or the system is not defendable," Wenger said. "It's just a protection of the clubs who loan the players out to hurt the opponents and they have no risk at all.
"I think the best would be that the players are only loaned in lower divisions or abroad, and even abroad I'm not completely convinced it is right. For example, today I read in a paper that in Holland they complain that Vitesse Arnhem doesn't want to [qualify for the Champions' League], so that is the kind of question you get in the modern game."
It was alleged that Chelsea ordered Vitesse to do this, something the London club have denied. The Vitesse owner has links with Chelsea's owner, Roman Abramovich, and Uefa rules preclude clubs with a shared owner taking part in the same competition.
Wenger continued in questioning the loan system: "I don't make it a Chelsea thing at all... the system is for Chelsea like for Arsenal and everybody else. As a whole, the only question you ask is, is the system right or not. It's open to debate, I'm ready to accept any decision."
Everton currently have four loan players in the top scorer Lukaku, Manchester City midfielder Gareth Barry, Barcelona forward Gerard Deulofeu and the injured striker Lacina Traoré of Monaco.
Despite that, Wenger praised the "huge impact" of one of Everton's homegrown stars, stating that the England prospect Ross Barkley is one of the best young midfielders he has seen.
"He has made a big step forward. From a young hope he has suddenly convinced everybody he has a huge potential and talent and can have huge impact in big games, with a combination of technical qualities and power. He's one of the best I have seen."
Wenger meanwhile revealed the Arsenal's late 2-2 draw with Swansea City was "the flattest" moment of the campaign. "The 6-0 [against Chelsea] was a very low moment of our season, but we were the flattest after Swansea, because you know that was a game we had to win.
"But these players have an exceptional spirit. The desire and mental strength they have shown to come back from 1-0 down against [Manchester] City [to finish 1-1] makes me very optimistic for the final part of the season."