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Convinced of Fabregas's return one day, Arsene Wenger works on young players for now

Sunday, 13 January 2013 - 8:34am IST | Place: London | Agency: The Daily Telegraph
Theo Walcott is poised to become the sixth member of the home-grown coterie when he signs a new Arsenal contract understood to be worth around pounds 85,000 a week.

When Cesc Fabregas disappeared into the Catalonian sunset 18 months ago, a crucial component of Arsenal's DNA went with him. The loss plainly still grieves manager Arsene Wenger, who has disclosed his conviction that his absent star is likely to return in the near future "because he is a real Arsenal man". But in the meantime he is determined to construct the club's identity around its collection of young British talent, with Theo Walcott at its heart.

After Jack Wilshere, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Kieran Gibbs, Carl Jenkinson and Aaron Ramsey committed their futures to the Emirates en bloc last month, Theo Walcott is poised to become the sixth member of the home-grown coterie when he signs a new Arsenal contract understood to be worth around pounds 85,000 a week. Wenger is cautiously optimistic that the deal can be completed in the coming days, and already the manager plans to mould the group of British youngster into "a core that represents the values of the club".

The Frenchman explained: "Chamberlain is 19, Wilshere 21, Walcott 23, Jenkinson 20, Gibbs 23 - they are all good players, and I believe it is a bit easier to keep them. You need a core. We had that before, and now we are creating it now again. Chelsea used to have it in the form of John Terry and Frank Lampard, people who always represent always the club's strength and values."

There is a mounting sense at Arsenal that a happy resolution to the Walcott contract saga could prove a tipping point for Wenger's project. Ever since Fabregas left him in a pounds 35 million transfer back to boyhood club Barcelona, Arsenal have acquired a reputation as a club that invests painstakingly in talismanic players, only to watch them walk out of the door in the hands of the first wealthy suitor that expresses interest. Wenger reflected, with some nostalgia: "Once we were able to keep our players together for eight, nine years."

Not any longer, alas. Samir Nasri forsook Wenger's careful nature in favour of Manchester City's petrodollars, before Robin van Persie found that not even his deep personal loyalty to Wenger could keep him in North London once Manchester United pursued him. It is time, as the manager keenly intuits, for Arsenal to re-establish itself as an institution that keeps hold of its finest assets. Scant benefit is to be derived from scrupulously developing a player in his teenage years, before seeing him depart at the peak of his powers.

"It's important that we have consistency," Wenger admitted. "When you go for the policy that we have, with young players, you know that as soon as they become competitive, then from the ages of 23 to 30 they play for you. If you give them a chance at 18, then at 23 they go somewhere else, then you have worked basically for another club."

This is not to suggest that Wenger has given up of one day tempting Fabregas to return. "Fabregas was an exception, a world-class player. I'm not convinced that he will not come back one day here, because he is a real Arsenal man. He loves Arsenal, he watches every Arsenal game. But of course, Barcelona was his hometown and you had to accept that would come into it, especially with their club having the best team in the world."

The moment has arrived for Arsenal to end this recent self-defeating cycle, starting with a successful conclusion to Walcott's contract talks. Wenger did not downplay the significance of the negotiations, acknowledging: "I believe that at least it would give out a positive message for us, to our fans, to the people who love this club. It's about stability. We are not there yet but I hope we will be soon."


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