Wenger hands backing to his young stars
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger declared 'complete confidence' in his young Gunners as he prepared to throw them into action again in tomorrow night's FA Cup fifth-round replay at Blackburn.
The average age of the team for the Carling Cup final on Sunday was just over 21, and it looks set to be a similar story at Ewood Park.
Captain Thierry Henry, Tomas Rosicky and Abou Diaby are sidelined through injury, while combative midfielder Cesc Fabregas is set to be rested.
Add to that the suspension of Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Adebayor along with knocks to full-back Gael Clichy and Mathieu Flamini, Wenger would seem to have little option but to turn to his emerging players for cover.
The Arsenal manager, however, has no qualms about continuing with a policy which has so far served him well in both domestic knockout competitions.
'What these boys have done against Liverpool, Everton, Tottenham and Chelsea on Sunday is not a coincidence,' Wenger said. 'To repeat top-level performances is never that, and that is why I have complete confidence in them.'
Wenger told Arsenal TVOnline: '[Jeremie] Aliadiere has come back to challenge for the first team, so has [Theo] Walcott. Players like Denilson are serious contenders now and some younger players like [Armand] Traore have played.
'We have discovered Diaby again after a serious injury. He is a massive talent and can be a massive player. Overall it is a very positive experience.
'This team produced some excellent football, some excellent entertainment and some excellent emotions even for people who are not Arsenal supporters.
'I would like to keep that as a very positive experience. For me they are now contenders for the first team and everybody who plays for the first team has a serious battle.'
Given the fallout from the mass brawl which marred the Carling Cup final on Sunday - and resulted in both clubs being charged for failing to control their players as well as individual indictments for Adebayor and full-back Emmanuel Eboue - Wenger knows it will be good to let football take centre stage again.
'For us it is important just to win and to qualify to get positive vibes again after our disappointment on Sunday,' said the Arsenal boss. 'The FA Cup is another opportunity for us to go to another final and win a trophy.'
Wenger added: 'It is another important week, but we want to negotiate it better than we did the last one.
'Tomorrow will be a good test for us and our resilience. It will also test the way we deal with frustration again because it will be another committed game.'
Captain Henry may be sidelined tomorrow because of a slight foot problem, but the French striker has every faith his team-mates can produce the goods again.
He said: 'In every game, we show character and it does not matter who is playing.
'At Bolton I was not playing or Cesc, or Jens [Lehmann] or the lads who are injured - but it did not matter because we showed we have a collective character.
'This year in particular we have a really great squad. Whoever is in the team from this squad, you feel you are going to win. Whoever is in the team - I have no fear.'