I was tempted to go for Owen, says Wenger

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The Independent Online

Arsene Wenger admits he was "tempted" to try to sign England striker Michael Owen in the summer, but instead opted to keep his faith in Arsenal's talented youngsters.

Wenger is likely to come up against the 26-year-old when Arsenal head to Newcastle tomorrow, provided the centre-forward shakes off a hamstring problem which has hampered him since playing for England against Argentina last month.

Owen returned to the Barclays Premiership from Real Madrid at the end of August in a £16million deal, with Liverpool also said to have been keen on bringing their former favourite home, but not at the Spaniard's asking price.

Wenger admits he had thought about making a move for the striker, but felt it would have proven to be at the expense of rising talents such as Robin van Persie, who is set to sign an extended deal with the north London club.

"I was tempted," the Arsenal boss said. "But I knew I had Van Persie, I had Jose Antonio Reyes, I had Quincy wusu-Abeyie, players who can come out and score goals.

"At some stage you have to make room for your young players or they never play. If I bring Michael Owen, Van Persie today would not play." Wenger added: "For me, it was not a money question.

"It was really 'Do I stick to what I started or do I change direction completely?' I decided to give a chance to my young players because I felt if I had to do it, I had to this year. When you are a young player there is a moment where you have to come in; if you miss that moment you lose the player. When you feel a player has enough quality you have to stick to that, and at some moment put them in."

Wenger, though, did not follow up his thoughts with any sort of enquiry about Owen, as he instead tracked other transfer targets. "You go completely in for it or you don't go in at all. When you go in for a player you put 100 per cent effort in," he said. "At that time we were on the Julio Baptista case where we lost out, I wanted him more because I felt he could play more middle of the park as well because Patrick Vieira went. I wanted a multi-functional striker more than an out-and-out striker because I knew that Thierry Henry could give us goals, I hoped van Persie and Reyes could give us goals."

Despite not adding Owen to his Highbury arsenal, the Gunners manager remains a big admirer of the England striker. He said: "Michael Owen's career has only been stopped in patches by his injuries. Apart from that you can only respect Michael Owen because he is a guy who plays with enthusiasm. The minutes he plays and the goals he scores... it is fantastic what he has done. "

Arsenal head to St James' Park tomorrow looking to bounce back from their 2-0 defeat at Bolton last weekend, which saw the Gunners slip back down the table to fifth, 14 points behind leaders Chelsea.

With both Reyes and Dennis Bergkamp out injured, Van Persie is likely to come back into the side after starting the midweek goalless draw with Ajax on the bench.

The 22-year-old's form has helped put a difficult period off the pitch behind him. Van Persie was arrested in Holland during June following claims of a sex attack on a woman. Although he was not charged, the player remains subject to the ongoing investigation.

Nine goals already so far this season have lead the club to look to tie-up his long-term future.

Wenger expects the forward's contract extension - set to run until 2011 - to be signed in the "next few days", and is full of praise for the young Dutchman, who is looking to follow in the footsteps of veteran Bergkamp at Highbury.

"He has come on a lot and I feel he has matured," Wenger said. "He was getting there last year at the end of the season. Then at the beginning of this season, he had a big setback and now slowly he is coming back from that. Robin is a young player with a lot of talent and that means he is always tempted to use that talent in an individual way. But I feel he has developed his team play well. If he continues to do that, he will be a big player."