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Wenger ends Arsenal´s age of innocence

SoccerNews in English Premier League 23 Aug 2008

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Arsene Wenger has always maintained his commitment to blooding young talent at Arsenal is non-negotiable, but there are times when even the dearest principles have to be sacrificed.

The Gunners manager was forced to adopt a more pragmatic approach to the transfer market this week with the signing of Mikael Silvestre, in a bid to quell the doubters who claim his squad desperately lacks the experience needed to mount an English Premier League title bid.

The former Manchester United defender, 31, is positively old compared to the majority of Wenger’s squad but the Frenchman will be expected to provide the know-how which can be lacking in Arsenal’s emerging starlets.

Silvestre is set to feature in Saturday’s Premier League clash at Fulham, with Kolo Toure likely to be deployed as a makeshift midfielder.

Wenger has been keen to stress that Silvestre’s arrival on a two-year contract does not dilute his determination to maintain the north Londoners’ youthful vigour.

The average age of his starting line-up at Craven Cottage will still be well under 25 and the manager was sufficiently encouraged by his players’ displays in finishing third last season to give them another chance this year.

But allied to that is a realisation that, of all the top flight’s big four, his options are the most limited.

Wenger had four teenagers on the bench for last weekend’s narrow victory over newly-promoted West Bromwich Albion and it was notable that as Arsenal laboured to add to their early goal at the Emirates, the manager was unable to change the complexion of the game from the sidelines.

Silvestre – a versatile defender who can play at left-back as well as in the middle – will provide more cover, although it would be a surprise if Wenger failed to make further additions to his squad before the transfer window closes on September 1.

“There still might be one more player to come in,” Wenger said, who is weighing up moves for Gareth Barry, Xabi Alonso and Gokan Inler.

“We have a short squad and we can’t afford injuries like other clubs – it’s fine when everyone is fit.

“I signed Silvestre because he was the kind of player who can complete our team in every aspect of what we needed – a left-footed player, experience at the back and some maturity as well.

“The thinking is that he has a great team attitude and we are a bit light in terms of experience in the dressing room so he can help us on that front.”

Fulham’s concerns, meanwhile, are more prosaic. The south-west Londoners embarked on a spending spree in an effort to avoid another relegation struggle, but last weekend’s opening day defeat at unfancied Hull – sealed by a dreadful mistake from defender Paul Konchesky – was not in the script of manager Roy Hodgson.

A more concentrated performance will be expected against the Gunners, even if the club’s record against the Premier League elite remains unremarkable.

Hodgson said: “We have to make sure we do not make calamitous defensive errors and that Arsenal have to work hard for their goals.

“Whenever you play against the top four, you know you are in for a tough game but we have to believe we can get a result.

“We have worked hard and now we have to trust that we will test the capacities of a team like Arsenal, and not just teams like Hull.”

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