Pennant threatens to leave Highbury for first-team action

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The Independent Football

Jermaine Pennant is preparing himself for talks with the Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, over his future at Highbury.

The 20-year-old midfielder is frustrated at the lack of first-team opportunities and believes his future may lie elsewhere if matters do not improve.

Pennant shone for the England Under-21 side in their 2-0 win over Slovakia in Sunderland on Tuesday, a performance which he hopes will have been noticed by Wenger. "If I don't get in the Arsenal team by the time I'm 21 then I'll have to look elsewhere. I don't want to be sitting around on the bench and not being used," Pennant said yesterday.

"I feel that I'm good enough to play in the Premiership and, hopefully, I will next season. I've been patient but you can only be patient for so long.

"If I don't get my breakthrough then I'll have a word with the manager and ask him what he thinks of me."

Gareth Barry, who stepped down from the full squad to captained the Under-21 side on Tuesday, is likewise hoping that he will not be "pushed around" by the new Aston Villa manager, David O'Leary, as he looks to further his career for both club and country.

After years of drifting from position to position at Villa Park, which Barry concedes has hindered his England prospects, the 22-year-old found a home on the left side of midfield under Graham Taylor last season.

Barry was one of the few shining lights for Villa during a difficult campaign - which saw the club stave off the threat of relegation with just a week to spare - winning the supporters' player of the year award. But, with the surprise departure of Taylor and the arrival of the former Leeds manager O'Leary, Barry is now wondering just how he will fit into the Irishman's plans.

As far as Barry is concerned, he has found a role he enjoys and he does not want to move, as he said: "Many previous coaches told me midfield might be the position I end up playing.

"Certainly, the way last season went I'm hoping to settle down in that position now and not get pushed around too much.

"I've found out before that getting pushed around can affect your chances of getting into the England squads. Although there's been a bit of shake up this summer at Aston Villa, I'm looking forward to meeting David O'Leary.

"I don't know too much about him, but I've spoken with Paul Robinson and Danny Mills and they had good things to say about him, so I'm also looking forward to working with him."

Although convinced he is a better player now than when he won the first of his eight senior caps three years ago at the age of 19, Barry believes that he needs to retain his left-midfield position for the sake of his continued development.

"There's a lot of things to look at as to why I'm better now, like more experience which goes a long way in football," added Barry.

"I'm also playing a different position, and the way last season went there were definite signs of improvement.

"It was my first season in midfield and I'm looking to improve next season. Hopefully things will get better."

Barry, though, can expect to continue to flit between the seniors and the Under-21 side for the next year at the most, providing coach David Platt's squad qualify for next summer's European Under-21 Championship finals. He spent the previous three weeks with the senior squad and won his first cap for two years, as a substitute in the 2-1 friendly win over Serbia and Montenegro nine days ago.

Tuesday's Under-21 result means England are still in the hunt for a place in the play-offs as they trail the group leaders Turkey by six points, with a game in hand, and second-placed Portugal by two points, with the top three teams all still due to play one another.

While Barry understandably wants to further his senior career, he appreciates he still has a role to play with the Under-21s, particularly if they do make it to the finals. Disappointment no longer plays a part in his thinking as he said: "At training on Monday, Mr Eriksson told me straight that I would not be on the bench [for the senior game with Slovakia].

"So he gave me the option of staying with the squad and watching from the stands or to play for the Under-21s. There was only one decision. But it has still been a step forward for me because I've had the opportunity to show what I can do in training, and it's been more than two years since I've been able to do that.

"But despite the good season I had with Villa, I knew I wasn't going to break through this summer and do anything anyway. Given my performances, I was hoping for an earlier call-up, but that's football and I'm very experienced to know that you just keep going.

"It's been frustrating not getting into the England squads, while Mr Eriksson plays with a diamond formation and maybe that goes against me, but I think I could play that position anyway."

For now, Barry is on course to break Jamie Carragher's 27-cap Under-21 record, which he would be proud to achieve. "If that happens," he said, "I will obviously be delighted. I've eight full caps to go with it, so it's not as if I've failed to break through into the full squad.

"Obviously, I'd rather be winning full caps and playing at the top level and that's what I'm working towards.

"If that's not going to happen then I'm still young enough to play for the Under-21s and that's what I'm happy to do."