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Nov 29, 2008

Wenger: Tough campaign won't 'break' young stars

Arsene Wenger maintains the experiences of this season, however tough, will not "break'' his young Arsenal squad - and insists they have the quality to become a major force once again.

The Gunners travel to Premier League title rivals Chelsea on Sunday in need of a victory to breathe fresh life into a campaign which threatens to unravel before Christmas.

A string of injuries - with key men such as Tomas Rosicky and now England winger Theo Walcott unavailable - have forced Wenger to turn to teenagers like Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere for cover, while 20-year-old Brazilian Denilson has emerged as the regular partner for new captain Cesc Fabregas at the heart of the midfield.

Having lost five Premier League matches already, Wenger accepts there is now no more margin for error if Arsenal, currently down in fifth place, are to reclaim a championship they last won during the 'Invincibles' campaign of 2003/2004.

However, even if they should endure another season of frustration, the renowned French coach is in no doubt his young Gunners will be all the stronger for it.

"How can you break this squad?'' Wenger declared. "They are a very young team and have 15 or 20 years in front of them. They are already at the top, some at the age of just 19.

"This squad has a fantastic future, despite all of the efforts from outside the club to break them. It will not happen.

"I feel this team can be one of the forces in Europe for many years, but we have to convince people - and that is not to talk too much, just to go out and play well.

"The definite opinion is always the last game. If you win you are a hero, even if the other team hits the bar 10 times. If you lose, and you hit the bar 10 times, you are useless.''

Arsenal head into tomorrow's showdown under the guidance of 21-year-old Fabregas, who was promoted to the job following the unceremonious axing of outspoken William Gallas.

Chelsea manager Luiz Felipe Scolari feels his skipper John Terry was "born a captain''.

Wenger, though, believes it is more about developing the skills necessary to take a team forward.

"For me there is no such thing as a born leader,'' he said.

"I believe leadership is something you learn and grow into when you are given responsibility.

"I have never met someone who was a born leader - but I believe Cesc can develop it.

"He knows about the job, he understands the problems within a team, and he will quickly adapt to the role.''

Wenger added: "As for his age I do not think being a captain is necessarily linked with that.

"Tony Adams was 21 when he became Arsenal captain and don't forget Cesc has already played more than 200 games for us.''

Wenger will come up against one of his former proteges tomorrow in striker Nicolas Anelka, who left Arsenal in 1999 after making a major impact at Highbury as a teenager where he helped them win the Double.

Stints with Real Madrid, Paris St German, Liverpool, Manchester City, Fenerbahce and Bolton followed, but with limited success.

However, now back at one of the top sides, Anelka has found his form in front of goal once more and with 12 so far this season is the leading marksman in the Premier League.

Wenger said: "I feel he had a strange career because he had a fantastic start and after he played in some clubs who were mid-table clubs, now he is coming back to the top.

"I am not surprised because he always had the same talent, but that was not always coming to the top.

"No disrespect to Bolton, but it is easier to be a top-level goalscorer when you play in a big team instead of teams who do not create as many chances.''

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