Arsène Wenger said yesterday that his young Arsenal team would emulate the achievements of Manchester United’s so-called ‘golden generation’ within the next four years. He also claimed he was the only Champions League manager developing players rather than buying success.
In comments laden with sarcasm, Wenger brushed aside criticism that his team is struggling through a failure to score goals by saying that every team goes “through a period like that. Villa struggled, Chelsea, Liverpool and Man Utd. They [United] had a bit more help than the others, but they struggled as well.” When asked what he meant by “help”, and was he questioning how United’s games are refereed, Wenger said: “No, no, no. Nobody would think that in England. I just read the comments of Sam Allardyce and he starts to think they get some help. It was completely new for me and for the other managers as well.”
Blackburn manager Allardyce was raging after Saturday’s defeat at Old Trafford and Wenger could not help stir the pot, but it was his statement, offered rather than teased out of him, that if he keeps his present team together “they will beat comfortably all the other teams, believe me” that was the most arresting. “We play with Walcott at the start of the season, Diaby, Fabregas, Nasri and Denilson and the oldest is 21-years-old [Diaby was actually 22],” he said. “Man Utd had a golden generation with Giggs, Scholes, Beckham, the Nevilles and Butt and they won together because they stayed together.
“This team can have a similar success. If you can beat Man Utd at 2-0 and 2-1 [as Arsenal did at the Emirates last November] why can’t you beat them at 2-3 or 2-4? That is why I feel they can have a similar success.”
Wenger admitted that there was “a lot of pressure on me” in his attempts to keep the young players together. “They feel we have a big potential,” he said of Cese Fabregas and Robin van Persie in particular, “but they are like everybody and they want to win today and now. I share that as well. A big battle is impatience in general. Who is patient? Is your wife patient? Mine is not. As long as we have not won the trophies people question your ability – we have to keep the belief and keep going and the trophies will come naturally. What we achieve in the rest of the season and trophies we win is important in keeping players like Cesc and Van Persie, but they have to decide whether they really want to show how good they can be together. That is in their hands as well.”
There is a fear that as like last year, when Mathieu Flamini and Alexander Hleb left, some players will not share that belief. “You always lose one or two en route like Flamini,” Wenger admitted. “That is disappointing and I tried personally to keep him but we wanted to respect our wages structure because that is even more important for the future of the club.”
“Normally big clubs do not educate young players any more,” Wenger added. “That does not exist. You give me tomorrow and look how many players were educated at our club, and then take all the players from the other Champions League teams and tell me how many have been educated at the club.”
Given that Nasri and Theo Walcott were both big money buys and few others are exactly “home-grown” and Wenger’s logic is a little shaky, even if his reasoning that a young team should grow together is admirable. Sir Alex Ferguson may point out that Jonny Evans, Darren Fletcher and John O’Shea have a greater claim to having been “educated” at their present club.
Tonight Arsenal, with Andrei Arshavin ineligible, host Roma for a place in the quarter-finals of the Champions League, with the return leg in two weeks time. With seven first-team players injured for last Saturday’s home draw against Sunderland, only Abou Diaby has since been declared fit although Wenger is confident of progressing. “I believe this team is as good as anything in England,” he said.
Roma headed Chelsea’s group in qualifying but have had a stuttering season and, like Arsenal, are struggling to qualify for next season’s competition having begun the campaign so badly. Like Arsenal they are also suffering from injury problems.