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Wenger defends young Guns

ARSENAL manager Arsene Wenger defiantly defended the potential of his young team after two crushing home defeats, and expressed indifference to fans' mounting frustrations.

Wenger is the club's most successful manager and has enjoyed an overwhelming period of support from fans, even during the past four years when Arsenal hasn't won a trophy. But the tension has been mounting over the course of the season and was compounded by heavy home losses to Manchester United and Chelsea this past week.

Arsenal supporters streamed out of Emirates Stadium in the thousands with 30 minutes left to play in the Champions League semifinal second leg on Tuesday after Manchester United went ahead 0-3 and eventually knocked the Gunners out of the tournament 1-4 on aggregate. The fans again had seen enough on Sunday during the 1-4 league defeat to Chelsea, with thousands of empty seats well before the final whistle and widespread booing.

Wenger's response was curt and dismissive when asked after Sunday's loss what his message was to the fans, when it was suggested that their mass exodus on Tuesday and Sunday meant they were hurting.

Free to leave

"Everybody is free to leave the stadium when he wants," he said without elaborating.

Wenger has won three league championships and four FA Cups over his nearly 13-year tenure - the last being the FA Cup in 2005.

Wenger said he didn't think Arsenal "had a bad performance" against Chelsea and that it shouldn't have been a 1-4 game because of the number of chances Arsenal created.

Theo Walcott and Samir Nasri wasted golden opportunities to put Arsenal in front before Alex headed Chelsea in front from a Didier Drogba free-kick after he was tripped by Cesc Fabregas.

Nicolas Anelka made it 2-0 before halftime and Kole Toure's own goal sealed victory. Nicklas Bendtner pulled one back for Arsenal but Florent Malouda rounded off a great win for FA Cup finalist Chelsea.

There hasn't been widespread demands that Wenger resign, but fans are calling for change on blogs, radio shows and most noticeably through their lack of support when the team is down. Notably, the once ubiquitous chant "There's Only One Arsene Wenger" hasn't been heard among fans with the same frequency in past seasons.

Wenger's undying loyalty to his vision for the club - developing a team of young players through Arsenal's system - is showing signs of cracking and he has suggested in the past few days that he may strengthen his squad over the summer. Wenger, who turns 60 in October, may be encouraged to go with experience after his winter purchase of Russia playmaker Andrei Arshavin paid immediate dividends.

But on Sunday, he remained defiant when asked if the squad required a major overhaul. "No, I believe we need to continue to improve," he said. "Things are not as doom and gloom as everybody wants to make it after defeat ... We have to continue to improve in the areas where we feel it is right. It doesn't necessarily mean quantity (of players) and not even quantity of money, just the right players."


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