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Key player departure signals start of revolution at Arsenal

SoccerNews in English Premier League 5 May 2008

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Arsene Wenger's ceaseless pursuit of footballing perfection makes evolution his favoured method of team-building, but the Arsenal manager faces a close-season revolution as he steels himself for the departures of several key players.

While Nicklas Bendtner's late goal clinched a 1-0 win over Everton on Sunday that left the visitors sweating over UEFA Cup qualification and emphasised the limitless potential of Wenger's emerging young side, there was a sense of an era ending in north London.

Wenger confirmed he sent on Jens Lehmann for the final 25 minutes at the Emirates Stadium to allow him one last appearance before his imminent departure after five years at the club.

The German goalkeeper, who Wenger rates as one of the best stoppers in Premier League history, said farewell to the crowd with an extended lap of honour. But it is the other potential departures that could prove more damaging in the long run.

Wenger has given Mathieu Flamini until Monday to decide if he wants to accept Arsenal's offer of a new contract. But AC Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani claimed on Sunday that the French midfielder is set to sign a four-year deal with the Serie A club and his time at the Emirates looks over.

Then there is Inter Milan's repeated attempts to lure Alexander Hleb to the San Siro. Wenger is furious that the Italian champions publicly admitted their interest in the Belarus winger and is ready to report them to UEFA.

His frustration has been increased by the suspicion that Hleb could be seduced by Inter's overtures.

Flamini and Hleb both watched from the sidelines on Sunday due to injury and suspension and may not tread the Emirates turf again.

Throw in the likely exit of Gilberto Silva as the Brazilian midfielder searches for a more regular action and suddenly Wenger's squad looks a little thin.

“It was a farewell for Jens, yes,” Wenger said. “I wanted the fans to say goodbye to him because of what he's done for us. He's not an easy character but you take that. He's been fully committed and that's easy to forget sometimes.

“Frankly I don't know what will happen with Flamini. He has an offer on the tablke that is valid until Monday.

“At some stage you have to make a decision and if he goes we have to look at our options. We can't wait until July. You could lose players if they come on the market.

“I would like Gilberto to stay but I will sit down with him and talk about it.”

While Wenger contemplates the changes ahead, his Everton counterpart David Moyes faces one more nervous 90 minutes as the Toffees try to secure another season of European competition.

With 13 minutes left to play at the Emirates, Everton were on course to claim the point they needed to secure fifth place and guarantee a UEFA Cup place.

But Bendtner's powerful header means they have to avoid defeat at home to Newcastle next Sunday to ensure they finish above Aston Villa, who remain three points behind Moyes's side.

Moyes has no fears about his players' ability to get that elusive point.

“I thought we were unfortunate. I'm disappointed we didn't get a point we need to secure UEFA Cup football. We did enough to get it,” he said.

“But three points ahead with a game to go is a position I'm happy to be in. I'm confident the players can do it. I've got no worries about their attitude next week.”

Everton's best chances came in the first half. Manuel Fernandes cleverly worked space to send Johnson scampering clear of Gael Clichy, with Lukasz Fabianksi forced to save with his feet.

They went even closer when Joleon Lescott met Fernandes's corner with a downward header that Denilson alertly hooked off the line.

But the visitors showed less attacking intent after half-time and were made to pay in the 77th minute.

Bendtner's pass sent Armand Traore away down the left and the young full-back returned the favour with a perfectly-flighted cross. Bendtner thrives on such offerings and rose above Phil Jagielka to power his header past Howard.

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