New stars for a new stadium: Wenger lays foundations for post-Highbury era

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The sense of drift which has pervaded Highbury since the summer was finally arrested yesterday when Arsène Wenger confirmed a £25m renewal of his stuttering side was under way. It is not before time. Sir Alex Ferguson's recent claim that Arsenal would struggle to fill their new 60,000-seat stadium at Ashburton Grove will have struck an uncomfortable chord within the marble halls. It came at a time when Thierry Henry and Ashley Cole seemed bound for Spain with no obvious replacements for them, or the departed Patrick Vieira, being lined up.

With Chelsea disappearing over the horizon, Manchester United and Liverpool strengthening their squads, and even Tottenham enjoying a revival, an era seemed to be drawing to a close on the pitch as well as off. Henry has subsequently pledged to stay, Cole may yet follow suit (though that still seems unlikely), and, now, Wenger is attempting to make his biggest splash in the transfer market since he arrived at the club 10 years ago.

The only caveat is that these players, like the core of the current squad, are young: Adebayor 22, Diaby 20, Walcott 16. Two are tall, which addresses one of Arsenal's weaknesses, but another has been inexperience and that is not going to change overnight. But Arsenal's prospects are brighter than for some time, if all three players are secured, and if they live up to the billings yesterday suggested by Wenger.

Can Diaby be the new Vieira?

"You can compare him a little bit to Vieira, who has a similar stature," Wenger said. "He is a little bit of a different player but Patrick is a good role model for him. To model himself on Patrick would be a good idea because he has that kind of stature and strength."

There are a number of striking similarities between the two players. Both are tall (at 6ft 2in Diaby is an inch smaller than Vieira), strong and athletic French-Africans. Both joined Arsenal at 19 because they were playing very little for their respective clubs. As the Auxerre chief executive, Gérard Bourgoin conceded: "Diaby was hardly in the manager's plans so selling him was the right course of action."

Wenger, who developed Vieira into one of the best midfielders in Europe, says of his new acquisition: "He can be a complete midfielder. I like his physical power, his potential. And the fact that he can win a fight in the middle of the park. Also that he is good going forward. Of course, he has to develop but there is real, real potential there."

At £2m Diaby has come considerably cheaper than Vieira. It might be considered a bargain, not least given Chelsea offered double that amount, only to be rejected by the player. Diaby knows he has a genuine chance of playing in Wenger's midfield as early as this weekend and has ambitions to follow Vieira's giant footsteps. "He's a huge player," Diaby said, "La Référence."

But does Diaby really have what is required to make the Arsenal faithful cease pining for their lost No 4? Some might justifiably question why the new Vieira has made only five league appearances this season and cannot make Auxerre's current starting XI. The player will point to injuries and the lack of confidence he enjoyed from Jacques Santini, Auxerre's coach. The former Tottenham head coach, who had Vieira under his command with France, said: "Diaby has plenty of qualities, but to call him the new Vieira, well..."

Can Walcott be the new Henry?

Like Joe Cole and Wayne Rooney, Theo Walcott was being talked and written about long before he reached the first team. Chelsea had tried to sign him at 14 years old, at 16 he had inspired Southampton to the FA Youth Cup final. When he made his debut, in the opening match of this season, a frisson of anticipation ran around St Mary's. He did not disappoint, going past two players with his first touch, forcing the experienced Scottish international Jackie McNamara to bring him down, at the cost of a booking, with his second.

After that match Harry Redknapp, then Southampton manager, all but likened him to Henry but, given his stature, pace, youth and trickery, a more obvious comparison is Jermaine Pennant, signed by Arsenal at a similar age, but shown the door by Wenger. However, Walcott has a more stable family background.

Wenger preferred the Henry analogy. "Thierry is not a bad role model for him," he said yesterday. "There are similarities there. I like the timing of his runs, his determined attitude, the fact that he can play in different positions up front, the fact that he is calm in front of goal, and, of course, his electric pace. He shows composure in decisive moments. Whether it is in Division One or the Premiership it doesn't change. You either have that or don't have that."

Can Adebayor be the new Kanu?

Many Arsenal fans might ask, "Do we want the new Kanu?" The old Kanu proved a disappointment at Highbury after an encouraging start. However, the similarity in the way they play was pointed out by Wenger himself, who says of Adebayor: "He is a bit of a Kanu type, he has similar stature, but with a bit more going in behind.

"He has qualities that we don't have in the side. He is tall, good in the air and makes good runs. I wanted to add some power and some size into our squad. He already has big experience. He has played Champions' League, has played three seasons in France. He is at a good age."

Adebayor is the toast of Togo, after scoring 11 goals in guiding them in to both the African Nations' Cup, which starts next week, and their debut World Cup this summer.

A year ago Monaco also valued him highly enough to turn down a £5.7m offer, but now he is out of favour. Since Italian coach Francesco Guidolin replaced Didier Deschamps, Adebayor has been displaced by Marco de Vaio and Christian Vieri. "These signings reinforce my desire to leave," Adebayor said. "If I stay, I will finish the season on the bench. Now, I have the impression that you have to be Italian to be a first-team player in this side."

Adebayor, who has scored just once in 13 matches this season, spoke out last summer at what he thought was unfair treatment over pay. "If I was Argentinian or Brazilian people would treat me differently," he said. "At Monaco I am just the small, young Togolese guy. I cannot continue like this. I have to leave." He has got his wish.

Additional reporting Alex Hayes and Conrad Leach

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