Wenger tells Baptista to prove worth in the box

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The Independent Online

After four months at Arsenal and with only two starts under his belt, Julio Baptista has been told by the club's manager, Arsène Wenger, that he needs to start showing the ability that persuaded him to sign the midfielder last summer.

The Brazilian is on a season's loan from Real Madrid and may be running out of time to earn a permanent move. Wenger added yesterday that he had already begun to make up his mind whether to retain him or not. However, with both Wenger's first-choice strikers, Thierry Henry and Emmanuel Adebayor, out injured for the trip to Sheffield United today, Wenger needs Baptista to add to his attacking options at Bramall Lane.

Confirming he would give the 25-year-old only his third start of the campaign, alongside or just behind Robin van Persie, Wenger said: "He is ready to play. The problem he has for me is to give him the opportunities he deserves. He has a great attitude and is very strong mentally. But over the next six months he has a lot to prove. I am leaning one way more than the other [whether to keep or release him], but I am not saying which way."

Baptista arrived at the very end of August in a year-long swap loan deal with Real that involved Jose Antonio Reyes moving to the Spanish capital. Wenger had tried to sign him in 2004 but, since acquiring the former Seville player, he has not handed him a regular place, giving him only nine substitute appearances in addition to his rare starts.

Baptista established himself in Spain as a goalscoring midfielder but has struck only once this season. Yet Wenger feels he can deliver in the absence of Henry and Adebayor, who are among nine players on the injured list. "He can arrive late into the box," Wenger said. "He's a fox in the box, he's good in the air. He needs to get a few games to show how good he is. He had not played much football before he joined us and it's a vicious circle. When you get a chance you must be ready."

Baptista was injured in his first few weeks in north London, but Wenger said: "In training I have not seen one minute when he has not been completely dedicated. He has put everything aside to be completely ready when he plays."

Wenger, who has picked up six points out of six over the holiday period, was quick to play down talk of the effects of a virus among the Sheffield players, which could lead to the Blades fielding a weakened line-up. "Arsenal is the best medication to recover," he joked as his side seek to extend their unbeaten run of seven games in all competitions.

The Frenchman also confirmed that he would appeal against the charge of improper conduct he incurred when talking to the referee, Steve Bennett, at half-time during the home draw with Portsmouth two weeks ago.

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