Wenger arrives at last

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The Independent Online
Arsene Wenger finally strolled into Arsenal's marble halls yesterday and and immediately banished talk of a Highbury crisis.

After weeks of frustration shackled to his current Japanese club, Grampus 8, he at last took a first-hand look at the club supposedly reeling from Bruce Rioch's sacking, caretaker Stuart Houston's resignation, Tony Adams' alcoholism, and boardroom bungling.

But within hours the elegant Frenchman who has taken effective, if not official, control for Wednesday's Uefa Cup tie against Borussia Monchengladbach in Cologne, said: "I had the feeling there was a big crisis here.

"But every time I had contact with the board they looked very strong and determined and the players appear to have been very positive too. The crisis has been around the club but never inside the club."

Wenger, who officially assumes control on September 30, has already made his first major decision, appointing the Gunners' second stand-in Pat Rice as his No 2.

And his second will be to meet the squad today and encourage them in their bid to retrieve a 3-2 deficit against Borussia.

Then the 47-year-old will reassure self-confessed alcoholic Adams, and other problem players such as compulsive addict Paul Merson, that he will give them every chance.

"My special message to Adams will be: "respect," he said. "I know he must for a long time have been in a difficult situation and when you're in that situation you feel you have to cheat sometimes.

"I know that what he did needs a lot of courage. When people are brave and honest you always have to respect them."

But Wenger, an economics graduate who speaks eloquently in five languages plus a smattering of Japanese, will be no soft touch. "I believe in discipline - but the best discipline is always when a player understands it's in his best interests," he said. "Success today relies on discipline on and off the field."

As someone who inspired and commands the respect of England coach Glenn Hoddle - he turned down a job as the Football Association's technical director for the closer, daily involvement with coaching that Highbury offers - and was manager of the year in both France and Japan, he is out of football's top drawer.

Wenger believes he knows enough about the English game to succeed: "I like real, modern football - football made of compact lines, of zones, of pressure and football of quick, co-ordinated movements with a good technical basis. I feel the technical basis of the team is quite strong when everyone is there.

"The main reason for coming is that I love English football, the roots of the game are here.

"I like the spirit round the game and at Arsenal I like the spirit of the club and its potential. For my career, it can be another improvement, a further step for my personal development.''

Wenger believes he already has the players to succeed at Arsenal, dismissing reports linking him with a pounds 12m double swoop for Brazilian Leonardo and German Matthias Sammer as "expensive but good imagination".

He plans to sign new players but said: "I am not in any hurry. Why? Because there is quality in the team.

"What the team has shown up to now is very strong. There have been a lot of stories around the team and a lot of changes but every time they showed a great reaction.

"I really was surprised by the mental strength and character of the team because it was not easy for them. I would like to bring in later on one or two players because the squad is a bit short in my opinion."