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Wenger has a point to prove after turbulent close-season

SoccerNews in English Premier League 15 Aug 2008


For a manager who has amassed silverware with the same nonchalant ease as if he were collecting stamps, Arsene Wenger still has a point to prove on the eve of his 13th season in English football.

The Arsenal manager has endured a turbulent close-season, losing two of his most impressive performers from last year — the midfielders Mathieu Flamini and Alexander Hleb — as well as two of his most experienced in Gilberto and Jens Lehmann.

There have been mutinous mutterings from Emmanuel Adebayor, the club's leading goalscorer from last term who had been agitating for a move to AC Milan or Barcelona.

With new signings also thin on the ground — Samir Nasri, the French winger, is the highest profile arrival having joined from Marseille — Wenger has seen his chances of winning back the Premier League title after a four-year wait written off by many pundits before a ball has even been kicked in anger, particularly as Tomas Rosicky, Eduardo da Silva and Cesc Fabregas will all miss the start of the new season through injury.

It is a scenario which would have most top flight managers scrabbling for the Valium, but Wenger has always been defiantly different.

The Frenchman's faith in his club's young talent, which so nearly turned last season's title race into a three-way battle with Manchester United and Chelsea, is unshakable and he is excited by the prospect of watching his Class of 2008 in action.

Theo Walcott, the England winger, should start fulfilling his enormous potential, having matured physically and emotionally since his move from Southampton in January 2006, while Wenger is also demanding improvements from Denilson, the Brazilian midfielder, and Denmark striker Nicklas Bendtner.

Aaron Ramsey, the 17-year-old signed from Cardiff for five million pounds, is also tipped for a senior role.

Wenger's starlets found it hard to kill off FC Twente in their midweek Champions League qualifier in Arnhem, but West Bromwich Albion have every right to feel anxious ahead of their trip to the Emirates stadium on Saturday.

“The young players have got the control and they have got the quality and if they play for Arsenal then that means they are very good,” said William Gallas, the club captain.

“I am happy for them because when I was the same age as them I don't think I was at a big club like Arsenal. It is a joy to work with them everyday.”

What Albion would give for Arsenal's supposed 'problems'. The West Midlands club might have won promotion in stylish fashion last season, earning themselves the moniker of the 'Arsenal of the Championship' in the process, but this promises to be a more taxing year.

Tony Mowbray, the manager, has lost his most impressive striker, Kevin Phillips, and struggled to add depth to a paper-thin squad.

Little wonder, then, that the Baggies are relying on team spirit — that traditional fuel of the newly-promoted — to sustain their survival challenge this term.

“Even last year people could see what a great team spirit we had when we celebrated goals,” Jonathan Greening, the midfielder, said. “And the way the gaffer likes to play will suit the Premier League more than the Championship.

“The main thing for us is to work hard in training and keep the spirit that we had last season. If we can carry on like we did last year and gel as quickly as possible we have every chance of having a successful season.”


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