Wenger tries to bear the brunt as new generation get 'slaughtered'

Arsenal manager portrays himself as the protector of his young players before vital home game with Bolton

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The Independent Football

The pressure might be on Arsène Wenger but the Arsenal manager demonstrated yesterday that he still has the ability to come up with some of football's most striking metaphors when he compared himself to a polar bear, protecting his brood from the "bullets" of those who would seek to destroy them.

For Wenger's offspring, read the latest generation of young players that he is trying to develop with his team four places off the foot of the Premier League ahead of today's crucial home game against Bolton Wanderers. There are no prizes for guessing the identity of the hunters: they are Wenger's critics among sections of the Arsenal support and in the media.

While in many cases it appears to have been the more senior players in his squad who have let him down, Wenger still painted a picture of himself as the protector of a young team, taking the flak himself for poor performances. "Since I arrived in England there have been a lot of things said that are wrong but on the positive side as well," he said. "I personally do not complain. When you have heavy criticism of a young player I am more worried about it. I am supposed to take the bullets and absorb them. Like a bear."

Asked to specify what kind of bear he had in mind, Wenger replied decisively: "A polar bear." He added: "In fairness it does not hurt me too much. You worry more about the young player who gets in the team at the moment and gets slaughtered. When I was 19 that was much more difficult for me to take."

Speaking in a briefing only for newspaper journalists, Wenger was asked how much more he could take of the metaphorical bullets. In response he mimed the impact of being shot repeatedly. "Endless," he replied. "It is because I understand the game. But when it is positive [coverage] it is the same. I'm a human being and I prefer it when you say I am not an idiot."

Wenger also warned for the first time that even Arsenal's best wage offers to the likes of Robin van Persie, Theo Walcott and Thomas Vermaelen might not be enough to keep the players, as the club enter another period of contract re-negotiation with some of their biggest names.

Van Persie, Walcott, Vermaelen and Andrei Arshavin will all have just one year left on their current deals come next summer if they do not agree new deals; the same situation that Arsenal faced with Samir Nasri and Gaël Clichy in the last transfer window. The problem with that dynamic is that the power rests with the player, who can see out the next year and leave for nothing. Alex Song still has another three seasons left on his deal after next summer.

In the past, Wenger has said he is confident that he will be able to convince Van Persie and others to stay but yesterday, for the first time, he was more circumspect. "We will try but we tried before – the gap on that front has become bigger for us so I cannot say today that if we go to the maximum [wage] we are sure to sign a player – even if we do that we are not sure."

Asked whether he was confident of re-signing them all, Wenger said: "Well, we [will] try to convince them but our desire is there to do it and we are ready to sit down with them. [That is] what we will do but after we see where we go."The obvious problem for Arsenal being that they simply cannot compete with the £165,000-a-week wages paid to Nasri by Manchester City.

Wenger's press briefing came after a tetchy exchange with television reporters in which he offered up "no comment" in response to questions about whether he tried to sign Joey Barton in the summer; whether he was still interested in Bolton defender Gary Cahill and whether former striker Dennis Bergkamp may return as a coach. Typically ready to handle all questions, it is rare for the Arsenal manager to refuse to engage.

Later, Wenger conceded that the prospect of Arsenal being bottom of the Premier League was hard to come to terms with. "It's very strange believe me," he said. Tomas Rosicky, Bacary Sagna and Aaron Ramsey are all in the squad today. Yossi Benayoun and Johan Djourou are out injured, although given the latter's current form that might not be considered a blow.

Arsenal Contracts

Andrei Arshavin expires June 2013

Robin van Persie: June 2013

Thomas Vermaelen: June 2013

Johan Djourou: June 2013

Theo Walcott: June 2013

Bacary Sagna: June 2014

Kieran Gibbs: June 2014

Laurent Koscielny: June 2014

Jack Wilshere: June 2015

Alexandre Song: June 2015

Wojciech Szczesny: June 2015

Aaron Ramsey: June 2015

Abou Diaby: June 2015