ARSENAL’S famous youth policy has been revered around the world for years, as Arsène Wenger’s kids continue to impress when given outings in the Carling Cup.
On Sunday, however, the Frenchman’s squad will be given one of its toughest tests yet when Premier League leaders Chelsea visit the Emirates Stadium. Wenger will be unable to call upon the services of almost a full team of players, with Łukasz Fabiański, William Gallas, Abou Diaby, Nicolas Bendtner, Gael Clichy, Robin Van Persie, Kieran Gibbs and Johan Djourou all taking up spells in the club’s treatment room with a variety of ailments.
However, with a team that can boast the resources of Arsenal, asking whether they can still perform with a full treatment room is akin to asking whether Jordan will ever appear in a British newspaper again.
The answer, in case the analogy leaves you wondering, is yes. Captain Cesc Fabregas will lead out an Arsenal team tomorrow that is admittedly in its formative years, but which undoubtedly possesses the talent and flair to at least compete against Chelsea. Gallas is 50/50 to face his former club, but Wenger is still able to pen the names of Sagna, Vermaelen and Silvestre on his teamsheet as he plots how best to keep Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka at bay.
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Certainly, the Gunners manager is in no mood to panic.
“We are ready for the [Chelsea] game, are well focused, prepared and the confidence is good,” he said.
“It is a big test, yes – but that is what you want, to play these teams. I think there is a period for any team to come out and show its strengths. For my team, this moment has come.
“We are not any more a team that has to be considered to be young. I think we have the strengths and we can show that on Sunday that we are strong enough to compete.”
Looking at Arsenal’s roster, it is difficult to engage exactly which list is more impressive – the big names that Wenger is missing through injury, or the roll-call of internationals he could name on the sub’s bench for the Chelsea clash. Youngsters Theo Walcott, Aaron Ramsey and Carlos Vela all have Premier League and international experience, whilst Philippe Senderos and Tomáš Rosický still cannot force their way into the first-team set-up – injury crisis or no injury crisis.
Whilst the majority of reports of Arsenal’s ‘injury crisis’ are negative, believing it will derail their title challenge before it has even begun, Wenger will cast a knowing mind back to 2004 when injuries to Patrick Vieira, Edu and Gilberto Silva forced him to thrust a relatively unknown teenager into the Arsenal spotlight. His name was Fabregas, he went on to help Arsenal win the 2005 FA Cup and has since enhanced his reputation as one of the world’s finest midfielders.
As one well-known football pundit once now-infamously said, “You’ll never win anything with kids” – but Wenger must be secretly hoping that lightning really does strike twice.
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