ARSENAL NEWS

Wenger defends Arshavin after Russian rumours

December 8, 2009

Arsene Wenger maintains Andrey Arshavin is an "example for everybody'' in his approach to the game as the Russian football union launch an investigation into reports of inappropriate behaviour during the World Cup play-offs.

GettyImagesThe Russian has attracted negative headlines in his homeland.

The Russians, coached by former Chelsea boss Guus Hiddink, suffered a shock defeat to Slovenia as their bid to reach next summer's finals in South Africa came to an end last month.

Following a television report from state-controlled Channel One claiming players had partied into the early hours ahead of the qualification play-off first leg in Moscow, there is to be an inquiry by the Russian football authorities.

Wenger, however, insists Russia playmaker Arshavin - who joined the Gunners from Zenit St Petersburg during the January transfer window - is a model professional. "He is a serious player and I have no doubt about his fitness at all,'' the Arsenal manager said.

"I do not believe a word of what I hear, not at all. From what I see, how he prepares for the games, he is an example for everybody.''

The Russian Football Union, meanwhile, intend to get to the bottom of the reports. A statement on their website, www.rfs.ru, read: "The RFU sent an official letter to the heads of Channel One and the Marriott Grand, asking them to provide explanations about the reliability of the reported information.''

Meanwhile, Arsene Wenger has every confidence young Gunner Tom Cruise can deliver a star performance on his Arsenal debut in Wednesday night's final Champions League Group H clash at Olympiacos.

With safe passage into the knockout stages already secure as group winners, Wenger will not risk the fitness of any more first-team regulars than needed ahead of the crucial Barclays Premier League encounter at Liverpool on Sunday.

The average age of tomorrow's squad is just 20, at that has been raised by the inclusion of 32-year-old veteran defender Mikael Silvestre, while fit-again England forward Theo Walcott and Cameroon midfielder Alex Song, who was suspended for Saturday's Barclays Premier League win over Stoke, have also travelled.

However, it is the inclusion of reserve-team captain Kyle Bartley, set to play at centre-half, as well as 18-year-olds Craig Eastmond, Luke Ayling and Cruise - the left-back who has yet to make an Arsenal first-team appearance of any form, even the Carling Cup - which will have left Wenger open to criticism of perhaps not giving the European fixture the respect it deserves.

Wenger declared: "I do not care about headlines - for me, there is only one Tom Cruise, and it is the one who plays for Arsenal Football Club. I believe he is a very good footballer, but I would not like him to be under too much pressure.

"If you are in his boots, you would not think for a second that you will play in the Champions League. So it is good for him and the others to get an opportunity in these games.''

Wenger has been cautious in his use of youngster Jack Wilshere this season after the combative midfielder became Arsenal's youngest player in both Europe and the Premier League when introduced during the early part of the 2008/2009 campaign.

The 17-year-old has made just five appearances in total, three as substitute, and Wenger accepts it may now be time for him to go out on loan, with both Scottish giants Celtic and Rangers, as well as Middlesbrough, having expressed an interest.

"Jack has the quality of a top-level player, but he is still very young to throw in every week in the Premier League,'' said Wenger. He is impatient to play and he wants to play. We have had a few enquiries, and there is a real need there.

"However, it is always a sensitive subject to give the players out on loan because you must trust the manager that they will play them - if he goes out on loan and [just] sits on the bench it is better that he stays and practises with us.''