Wenger desperate to keep hold of stars

April 23, 2008

Arsene Wenger maintains his 'first target of the summer' will be ensuring key men like Cesc Fabregas, Alexander Hleb and Mathieu Flamini stay at Arsenal - before looking to add some experience to his squad.

The Gunners have faltered over the last two months, as both their Premier League title charge and Champions League hopes ended in bitter disappointment.

Attention has now turned to what is required to see Arsenal stay the course next season along with rivals Chelsea, Manchester United and European Cup semi-finalists Liverpool.

Wenger, though, maintains his young squad does not need major surgery, but concedes they do lack the composure of experience.

Instead, the Gunners boss is more concerned players such as Hleb - set to miss the rest of the season after today accepting a charge of violent conduct from the Football Association, which carries a three-match suspension - as well as highly-rated midfielder Fabregas and out-of-contract Flamini stay at Emirates Stadium.

Wenger accepts the test case of Scottish footballer Andy Webster, which under European Law allows players to buy out their contracts, has changed the landscape in terms of team planning.

'There is money there [for transfers], but not as much as I read in the newspapers, because that is not true,' Wenger told Arsenal TV Online.

'However, with my financial package, the first thing I have to make sure is we keep the players we have at the moment. That is what people forget.

'The new rules put you under threat to lose your best players because after three years any player can walk out and after two any player over 28.

'So the rules and the structure of the wages bill is always under threat.

'My first target of the summer is to make sure what we have here stays here, and after, if there is still money available, to buy players.

'It is not as simple as it looks when you read there is so much money available to buy players - that transfer budget also includes the improvement of the wages.'

Belarus winger Hleb has been one of Arsenal's most consistent performers and has been linked with a big-money move to the continent this summer, with Inter Milan said to be keeping close tabs on the situation.

However, the 26-year-old will get no further chances to impress this season after the FA sanction - which was dished out following a review of television evidence - ruled him out of the games with Derby, Everton and finally Sunderland after Hleb was involved in an off-the-ball clash with Reading captain Graeme Murty during the Premier League match at the Emirates Stadium last Saturday.

Juventus, meanwhile, have made no secret of their interest in French international Flamini, who is technically free to talk to other clubs until any new deal is signed with the Gunners - which chairman Peter Hill-Wood revealed had seen the club 'push the boat out'.

Wenger has been linked with a number of potential transfer targets, including Palermo's Brazilian striker Amauri, Lyon's £12million-rated winger Hatem Ben Arfa and Valencia forward David Villa.

While he revealed there was indeed an Arsenal 'wishlist', the French coach insisted: 'Who we will buy in the summer is not decided yet, but I have players in mind.

'We have lists which we keep up to date, player number one, two, three or four in the positions were we look for - and you go of course for the number one.'

Wenger added: 'I believe at some stage you need to strengthen the team, but changing the team means kick some players out and replacing them. That is not the feeling I have. I feel this team has been absolutely tremendous.'

Despite another barren campaign - the 2005 FA Cup was Arsenal's last piece of silverware and it is now four years since they won the league - Wenger maintains his men are making progress.

He said: 'In the last season, we have heard enough that we have not won any trophies. Then again you have to take some distance with that.

'What is better? To have won the Carling Cup or to have gone in the Champions League final in 2006?'

Wenger insisted: 'We know it is not enough and we want to do more. But I believe not to recognise the merit of this team would be a professional mistake and I would not stand up for that.

'This team is tremendous and has a tremendous future. Maybe we have to add a bit of experience to all that - but we have done the main job.'