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By ESPN Staff

Wenger: Emirates swallowed up '04 transfer kitty

Arsene Wenger accepts Arsenal paid a heavy price for not building on their 'Invincibles' squad of four seasons ago - but is in no doubt the future is bright for the Emirates Stadium club.

Despite all of their fine passing football traditions, the Gunners have not been officially crowned the best team in England since they swept all before them in the unbeaten campaign of 2003-04.

Following Manchester United's victory over West Ham at Old Trafford this afternoon, the wait for another Barclays Premier League title goes on.

Wenger, though, remains supremely confident in his young squad, one which was built on the promise of youth rather than big-money signings as Arsenal faced up to the true cost of their move to the purpose-built, 60,000-seater venue at Ashburton Grove, which has saddled them with a £300million long-term mortgage debt.

'At the time, we decided to build a stadium, which cost a lot of money,' Wenger explained.

'We decided to go for a policy where we could survive without buying too much. We knew the resources were short and we suffered a little bit.

'But this season we were really, really close. No team has been punished more than we have and we have still only lost three games.

'We tried and we closed the gap.'

Wenger, whose side host Everton tomorrow, added: 'Last year we had 68 points and finished far behind. This year, we can make 83 and who knows what that will be good enough for?

'It was down to one game winning or losing, and at the time when it became really tight, we had everything against us.'

Wenger was not surprised to see Chelsea emerge as the new force from London, with the Blues having finished runners-up in 2004 under the guidance of Claudio Ranieri.

'People forget when we had that unbeaten season, Chelsea were second in the league,' he said.

'They were a fantastic side. We didn't lose one game and we were very close to us.

'I knew they would become champions because they had (Frank) Lampard, (John) Terry, Joe Cole - they were all going up.'

Wenger, though, continues to be a staunch defender of shrewd financial management and will not be held to ransom over player wage demands, with the future of out-of-contract midfielder Mathieu Flamini to be resolved on way or another this weekend.

The Arsenal manager, however, warned the continuing evolution of European Law could see the current transfer system eventually changed beyond all recognition, with the test case of Scottish footballer Andy Webster - which now allows players to buy out their contracts - having already changed the landscape in terms of team planning.

'It looks like European rules will make transfers disappear,' Wenger declared.

'Now, after three years, you can move out. After 28, you can move out after two years.

'Soon someone will say, 'why not at 27?' That's age discrimination - we want to walk out after two years as well. Then somebody will say, 'if after two years. why not one year?' And then there will be no transfers.

'Year by year, that's happening. Then we are in big trouble losing people's interest.'

Wenger also believes the notion of player quotas is doomed to failure.

'[FIFA president] Sepp Blatter has a lost battle there because it's against the basic rules in Europe that you can work where you want,' he said.

'With 'six and five' (six national-team qualified players and five foreigners), you won't get 11 players anymore because in some countries, they will be too small.'

Meanwhile, despite Arsenal managing director Keith Edelman's impending departure, Wenger maintains it is very much business as usual on the pitch.

'It won't affect me at all,' he insisted. 'What's happening with the board is down to the board - I am on the football side.

'What affects me is the quality of the pass the players make out there on the green grass.

'What is interesting for a manager is you have a budget and you build a team and this team you make successful as much as you can.

'For me, it's not interesting because if I want to make politics, I become a director and have a seat on the board.'

Wenger added: 'We have a great team which is developing well and we have to keep them together.

'The only situation we don't master is Flamini, who is free to go if somebody else offers more money than us.

'All the rest, it's important we show strength and belief in this team because they are really strong.'