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Apr 1, 2014

Wenger retains faith in young stars

Former Liverpool man Steve Nicol breaks down the implications behind Arsenal's 1-1 draw with Man City.

Arsene Wenger insists he remains as committed as ever to nurturing young talent through the Arsenal ranks.

• Cross: Wenger's Podolski position problem
• McNicholas: Arsenal feeling the need for speed
• Cox: Arsenal and Man City almost get it right

The Gunners have been frustrated in recent weeks as their hopes of challenging for the Premier League title have faded dramatically after three games without a win, but Wenger says his vision of turning raw talent into established professionals is still as important to the club as ever.

And he believes the loyalty and belief he has shown in the likes of Jack Wilshere, Wojciech Szczesny, Kieran Gibbs and Serge Gnabry will be repaid.

"They [academy graduates] think the club has given them a chance so they want to give something back as well," Wenger told Arsenal's official website. "It has to work both ways, but we want to be the ones who give a chance.

"It's one of the values of our club. We want to be very successful without neglecting the need to give a chance to people. I want it to be part of our tradition and I also want to develop a spirit inside the club that makes the young players be faithful to this club.

"It's a big mental test for the [young] players because you see how they resist stress, how they can deal with the pressure and how they can be committed in a very demanding environment. These kinds of qualities you discover only when you play the players.

"Of course, it's an early test that not everybody can take on. Some fail, but the strong ones just feel they belong there. They are not at all surprised that you give them a chance. In fact they are more surprised that you did not do that earlier! So when they have the chance, they think; 'Finally, he saw the obvious situation and at least now I can show how good I am'."

Wenger went on to speak about the abilities he looks for when signing a young player and used the example of Cesc Fabregas, who he prised away from Barcelona's La Masia academy when he was just 16-years-old, to emphasise his vision.

"Most of the time, [a young player] needs an exceptional quality that you sit there and think, 'OK, I have to play him," Wenger said. "You need to be quite brave to put a boy of that age into the team, but you can only be brave if you are convinced that he has something special.

"Of course when you think about 16 or 17-year-olds, usually it's not a physical advantage they have -- most of the time it's an exceptional talent or technical ability.

"For Cesc Fabregas it was on the vision front [that convinced Wenger of his talents], and his capacity to deliver the final ball. That's why you believe that most of the time it's an offensive talent that convinces you to pick a young player.

"Defensive talents are not often ready at that age because it demands more experience, more reading of the game and the opponent. With attacking play, you focus more on your own game so usually it is exceptional offensive talent that you can give a chance to."

Wenger reserved praise one of his more recent youth team graduate Szczesny, who has matured to emerge as a reliable goalkeeper for Arsenal in recent years even though he is still only 23.

"Wojciech had exceptional talent and I played him very early, so today he's at an age where most goalkeepers have not started yet, but he already has big experience," added Wenger.

"He was questioned at some stage and he had a debut that was not very easy, but he has matured earlier than expected because we gave him the chance earlier than expected. That's why I think he's ahead of schedule for a normal goalkeeper. It's down to his mental strength and his exceptional talent as well." 

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