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Wenger backs young midfielders

December 11, 2004 12:59 IST

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has no doubt that his young central midfielders Francesc Fabregas and Mathieu Flamini will be able to cope with Chelsea when the English Premier League's top two meet on Sunday.

In the absence of suspended captain Patrick Vieira as well as injured Brazilian duo Edu and Gilberto, Wenger has been left with 17-year-old Spaniard Fabregas and Frenchman Flamini, 20, as the champions look to close a five-point gap on Chelsea.

"I'm very confident," said the Frenchman. "I have no choice, but frankly I'm very confident. Fabregas already has good experience but he is still young.

"They are not impressed (by big names) and won't be inhibited, they will just focus on the game and express their talent. And don't forget, they have very experienced players around them."

Arsenal started the season playing the sort of game that most teams can only dream about, taking the opponents apart with a brand of high-scoring attacking football and establishing a healthy lead at the top of the Premier League.

Once their record unbeaten run was stopped at 49 league games by Manchester United, however, the sleek red machine started to stutter with Chelsea's expensive blue limousine roaring past them.

Wenger said he thought the championship was still wide open and his team's so called slump had been exaggerated.

"We lost one or two games and everybody wanted us to have a crisis," said Wenger. "But it is just because we have done extremely well.

"To go 49 matches unbeaten in a league like England is just amazing and we knew that could not last. That is the exception and it is not abnormal that suddenly you lose a game."


A convincing 3-0 win over Birmingham City last weekend, plus a midweek 5-1 romp in the Champions League against Rosenborg Trondheim, have indicated that Arsenal may be close to hitting top gear again.

"We had three big targets to get back on track," Wenger said. "The first was to beat Birmingham, the second to qualify for the last 16 of the Champions League and to beat Chelsea is the third.

"The spirit was never a problem, it was the confidence, because we are a very young team and we are getting better all the time."

Chelsea's only victory at Highbury since 1990 came in the quarter-finals of last season's Champions League, a 2-1 second-leg win that ended Arsenal's European dream.

"I'm not a great believer in history, I just think it's how well you play on the day," Wenger said. "We are ready, we have the talent and the spirit, we can win the game."

Nick Mulvenney
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