Wenger wants Arsenal youngsters to take chance
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Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has called on his young stars to show their worth as the side return to their Europa League campaign at BATE Borisov in Belarus.
He also urged their hosts’ supporters to avoid a repeat of the racist abuse that has previously undermined European fixtures, and revealed plans to meet Belarusian former Arsenal midfielder Alexander Hleb, who started his career at BATE.
Wenger is understood to have travelled without Laurent Koscielny, Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, Granit Xhaka, Alexandre Lacazette, Sead Kolasinac, Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal. Injuries to Alex Iwobi, Santi Cazorla, Francis Coquelin, Calum Chambers and Danny Welbeck have further limited his options.
In their absences the senior players include Per Mertesacker, Jack Wilshere, Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott, meaning the promising Ainsley Maitland-Niles is among those likely to feature, and the manager said: “This is the kind of job: you do not get 10 opportunities to play for Arsenal.
“Even if they only get 20 minutes, you have to convince people you have the qualities to do it and the courage to play and show your qualities.
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“We see in training that the player has quality. He is here because he has the qualities. After, to show it during competition is something different, and you only discover that during the competition.
“I said on Monday night after the (2-0 defeat of West Brom) that I would play an experienced team with a young bench. We have a very tight schedule and it is an important game, and that’s why there is only one or two young players who will start.”
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Discussing Maitland-Niles, 20, Wenger said: “His best position is defensive midfield. He has exceptional pace, a capacity to steal the ball from people, and I am convinced that he is ready to play.
“He has to improve a little bit on the concentration front, the demands of top-level football don’t tolerate some lapses of concentration, but all the rest is there.”
BATE were forced by UEFA to shut part of the Borisov Arena for a Champions League fixture with Porto in November 2014 after previous accusations of racism, and Wenger said: “I don’t have any preconceived ideas.
“(But) I hope that will not happen, and UEFA has always been very strong to deal with that.”
The 67-year-old Frenchman was also asked about Hleb, who left Arsenal for Barcelona in 2008, and the manager said: “He’s coming to visit us (on Wednesday evening).”
Mertesacker is to retire at the season’s end to become the club’s academy manager, and he similarly recognises the importance of those younger players gaining first-team experience.
“We see a lot of young players training with us, a lot of young players they have a good future here, but you need to develop them in a lot of areas,” said the 32-year-old.
“To train with us, to travel with us, to get an opportunity to play is a big time for such a young group.
“It is a really good test to see who is willing to learn from mistakes very quickly and get on with it.”