Premier League

Rafa: Squad not strong enough

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Sat, 26 Jan 2013 07:54:00

Jack Wilshere could become Arsenal's youngest starting captain on Saturday, but Arsene Wenger will not give him the full-time job just yet.

Thomas Vermaelen handed Wilshere the armband when he was forced off injured during the midweek victory over West Ham, and the midfielder is likely to lead the side out for their FA Cup tie at Brighton.

At 21 years and 26 days Wilshere is 56 days younger than Tony Adams was when he became skipper, and the England international has long been considered a natural heir to the likes of Adams and Cesc Fabregas.

Wenger said: "Honestly, Vermaelen made that choice (against West Ham) and I let him make it. It is always interesting to see when Vermaelen is out who he feels spontaneously should be the captain. I did not want to stop him.

"Wilshere is naturally a guy who is not scared of anything on the football pitch and that is usually the sign of a leader. He wants to win and shows you that.

"Of course he will be one of the leaders of this club - in fact he already is. A leader is somebody who does everything on the pitch to help his team to win. And he does that.

"If you are asking me if I will take the captaincy away from Vermaelen? No. But I think Jack will be captain of this club one day.

"It is important that the player gets to the stage where he develops first completely into an accomplished football player and then takes responsibility to take care of other people."

The 51-year-old has faced an intensely difficult few months on Tyneside, with his team slipping into the battle for Premier League survival after a desperate run of results and he has more recently had to deal with Demba Ba's defection to Chelsea, skipper Fabricio Coloccini's request to leave and a January recruitment drive.

However, the last week has brought significant progress on the transfer front and Pardew was able to announce yesterday that the club had managed to persuade Coloccini to stay until at least the end of the current campaign.

Asked how difficult a time he had endured, he replied with a smile: "Every day is a learning experience for me at this football club.

"You have to grow and enjoy it, otherwise it would kill you, so that's what I do, I grow with it and enjoy it.

"I know the feeling around is very much about results more than anything, and we need to put that right."

Newcastle will resume league action on Tuesday evening when they travel to fellow strugglers Aston Villa sitting just two points clear of the drop zone.

They will do so, however, with four new faces on board after central defender Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, striker Yoan Gouffran, full-back Massadio Haidara and midfielder Moussa Sissoko joined fellow Frenchman Mathieu Debuchy in heading for St James' Park as transfer window signings.

Eyebrows have been raised at Newcastle's concentration on the French market - they now have 12 Frenchmen in their squad following last night's arrival of Toulouse midfielder Sissoko - with chief scout Graham Carr having established an impressive network of contacts.

Pardew said: "Graham Carr doesn't speak a word of French, so it's amazing that he has done so well there.

"We not only use Graham, but we use his team in France. We have very, very good contacts in France and I think that's probably the main reason that the transfers have come that way.

"But the most important thing is getting good players, and we think the French market is a good market."

However, all the newcomers have been told that, while they are free to speak among themselves in their native tongue, they must learn English as quickly as possible.

Pardew said: "I always make the same speech to my French players and say to them that I will speak in English and they need to learn English very, very quickly.

"We talk in English on the pitch. Amongst themselves, for sure, some French dialogue can go on. Here, they have to understand me and they have to understand English."

Haidara, 20, admits his English is not good, but he is happy to learn.

He said: "As a group, us French players have come to the same opinion when we have spoken to each other, that we need to make sure we do speak with everyone.

"We need to understand the other players. It will help us to know their game better and also to learn English much faster."

Former United full-back Gary Neville was amongst those who rubbished De Gea's weak punch that which led to Tottenham's injury-time equaliser last weekend.

Ex-Liverpool defender Alan Hansen was also critical of the Spain youngster, but Ferguson insists the analysis was wide of the mark.

"It has been over the top. It is always over the top when it comes to criticism here," said the Scot.

"You have to listen to some idiots in the game. I am not interested in discussing the criticism because we know it is unfounded.

"Outfield players maybe make 20 mistakes in a game. But they (goalkeepers) are in a crucial position.

"It is unfortunate for the lad but he has to deal with it and we will help him."

That Ferguson felt United should have had a foul in the build-up to the goal only made the situation worse.

It goes some way to explaining his post-match attack on assistant referee Simon Beck, which he was asked to explain by the Football Association.

Ferguson's response was delivered last night and he must now wait until Tuesday before discovering whether any charges are to be brought against him.

Clearly the United manager's argument is that he should be allowed to criticise Beck, although he suspects the matter has become personal.

"That is what I have put in my letter exactly. But you never know the FA," he said.

"We are high profile and the profile of me is such that the FA naturally panic as soon as the press criticise them.

"I think that is what you will find. That is why they have sent me a letter.

"Whether I think it is unfair or not doesn't matter to them really at this point.

"I just think it is more about me than what I have said."

Interim manager Benitez blamed the Blues' unprecedented series of major trophy failures on a lack of depth and variety in a playing pool that has also been riven by injury and suspension.

Benitez has come under increasing fire for his tactics and team selection after his side blew another golden chance to end their season with silverware in Wednesday's Capital One Cup semi-final exit at the hands of Swansea.

The Eden Hazard ball-boy saga stole what might have been even more damning headlines about Chelsea's limp performance during this week's second leg at the Liberty Stadium.

Having begun the season competing on seven fronts, the soon-to-be-deposed European champions have now surrendered five pieces of silverware, four of them in semi-finals, finals or one-off matches.

They now have only two trophies to play for - their Premier League title hopes are all but over - with Sunday's FA Cup fourth-round tie at Brentford looking a must-not-lose game.

Confirming he had spoken to Chelsea's billionaire owner about transfer targets after Sunday's win over Arsenal, Benitez said: "We had a good conversation the other day but I have to concentrate on football and the game and tactics and all these things. That is my job."

Benitez spent much of today's pre-match press conference dropping hints he did not have enough resources at his disposal and when it was suggested that was what he was effectively saying, he replied: "Yeah, I know. When I talked with them [the board], I gave them my opinion and the club, they listened to me.

"They gave me their opinion, so we share opinions and we have these conversations and that's it."

Benitez denied Chelsea were guilty of poor pre-season planning ahead of a campaign during which they are playing an unprecedented number of matches.

But he was clearly hinting at a lack of numbers being behind the failures for which he is personally accountable: in the two trophies that were the most winnable this season - the World Club Cup and League Cup - as well as the demise of a league title challenge.

Benitez said: "The money that was spent before and was spent recently is different, and the other teams are also stronger, they are spending money.

"When you analyse the stats, you have to put in context or they don't have any value.

"It's not just about winning trophies.

"It's a key part of the game but the way and the tools that you have to win these trophies, that is the key."

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