Today history, tomorrow a glittering future for Wenger

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The Independent Football

The towers of Arsène Wenger's ambition are, according to the Arsenal manager, being built on the firmest of foundations.

Firstly there is the ever-contentious issue of the new stadium at Ashburton Grove. Wenger brooks no dissent - the hugely expensive, still problematic edifice is, he feels, vital to the club's future. And secondly there is a crop of young, cultivated players emerging into the light who can quicken the pulse and save many millions along the way.

Together, Wenger believes, these pillars will give Arsenal the strength, for years to come, to compete with Manchester United and whatever fortune is thrown at Chelsea. "We have to find a different way to be successful," he says. Not that, he feels, he may be around to reap the full benefit of his own assiduous groundwork - groundwork he emphatically claims can make Arsenal "the most powerful club in the world".

If he is correct, it will be some legacy. "I have a respons-ibility to push this club high up," Wenger says ahead of the FA Cup tie against Leeds United - a club with whom parallels of ambition, not architect, can be drawn. "But maybe I'm working at the moment for the next one [manager]."

In the here and now, history can be made, however. Today's match launches the pursuit to become the first club for more than a century to win the trophy three years in a row - the last were Blackburn Rovers in 1886, the year Arsenal were formed. Indeed Wenger has a remarkable Cup record - unbeaten in 14 matches since losing the 2001 final to Liverpool. It's all the more extraordinary because he has, at times,deployed weakened teams, using the competition, and the League Cup, to blood some of the talent he so clearly believes in and who have come through under the tutelage of the head of development, Liam Brady.

The names create a buzz: Jeremie Aliadière, Gael Clichy, David Bentley and Cesc Fabregas - the Spanish wonderkid who is the youngest goalscorer in the club's history. All helped knock out West Brom to reach the last four of the Carling Cup. And then there's Graham Stack, Justin Hoyte, Philippe Senderos, Frankie Simek, Ryan Smith. Smith, for example, is a particular favourite of Tony Adams - the leader of the last battery of homegrown talent to emerge more than 20 years ago. "Have you seen him!" Adams inquires with wide-eyed delight.

"I feel we've worked very hard to improve the quality of our young players," explains Wenger, who has previously been criticised for a perceived unwillingness to put his faith in youth. "The average level is much higher than it was three or four years ago and that is, of course, linked to hard work.

"I feel as well that the belief in the club is that we can win games, and to get that culture you have to firstly have big players, they create it."

Success begets success. Young players need to be introduced into a winning side and in the right environment. Few are expected to be used today at a potentially hostile Elland Road. As at Man Utd - with the Paul Scholes/David Beckham/Nevilles generation - it is best for them to emerge together.

The talent has also, Wenger feels, provided another dividend. Although he claims money is available for the January transfer window, it may not be used. "I do not need to do something and will only do so if I find the right player at the right price," he says, claiming the Abramovich millions have had a knock-on effect. Prices have been pushed back up in a global market in which English clubs are already made to pay a premium.

Wenger then states his own management philosophy - showing a clear divergence from many of his peers (not least the previous stewards of today's now-parlous opponents). "The target of the manager is to do as well as you can with as little money as you can," he says, showing a keen appreciation of the principle that buying a player is also, usually, an exercise in acquiring a depreciating asset.

The faith, again, comes down to youth. "What I feel is that I only know how good young players are if I give them a chance," he says. "If I buy, then I cannot give them a chance. Maybe some of them - Fabregas at 16, Ryan Smith at 17 - I would like them to be one or two years older, perhaps, because it would help me a lot to take a gamble with these young players."

But he continues: "My challenge at the moment is to get players out of the youth system we have brought in at a young age who are completely unknown but who we feel have the class to be up there. But it's a different way of being successful. There is no guaranteed way."

It has certainly created confidence - the confidence not to hide behind the financial constraints that Wenger acknowledges he is under. "I won't be disadvantaged by the [plans for the] stadium," he says. "I will be limited because of our limited level of resources, compared to Chelsea or Man Utd. I will have the resources of a club with 38,000 people, like Tottenham and many others. Therefore the investment with the new stadium is needed."

But generating more cash is not, on its own, the answer. "Anyway, with all the money you can have you cannot buy all the players in the world," he says. "There's always somebody, somewhere who they have not bought or not seen. And you can find them." And that comes down to being a good manager, a master builder.

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