Wenger on the defensive over wantaways

Last updated at 17:21 11 February 2005

Arsene Wenger has been forced to defend both Jose Antonio Reyes and Ashley Cole after both players have been accused of trying to engineer moves away from Highbury.

Wenger challenged Reyes to show inner strength to resist the temptation of giving up on his Arsenal career returning to Spain after just a year at the club.

Reyes admitted in a radio interview, when he was duped into believing he was talking to Real Madrid sporting director Emilio Butragueno, that he dreamed of moving to the Spanish club.

Wenger insisted the winger, who is understood to be homesick, would have to demand a move as he has no intention of selling him.

And while it is now clear that Reyes is unsettled, the Gunners boss backed him to come through this test of character.

Wenger maintained: "We signed Reyes as a 20-year-old and we have gone for the challenge of making him into one of the big players in the world.

"This doesn't change my determination to see that through. You know, within that period, that the player will have ups and downs.

"It's not easy for him. But if you want to go abroad, you have to accept it won't be easy. It's the same for everybody. That's part of the challenge.

"If you want to have a big player - like he will be, I'm still convinced of that - there will be periods where you're not too happy. You can ask Michael Owen. He's had periods like it too.

"He wouldn't have been feeling like this at all when he was scoring goals in September. We've all been 21 and could have said something like this when we were going through a bad period.

Spanish contingent

"But we have a good Spanish troop here. He has integrated and is loved by everybody. That will help him to go through periods like that.

"It is a big challenge for him. I feel for him, but when it doesn't go as well as he expected it to, he must show the strength that is needed. If he doesn't, he will [still] not be happy."

Reyes, 21, has been angered by the underhand tactics of Spanish radio station Cadena Cope, while it is also understood he did not use the phrase "bad people" to describe his Arsenal team-mates.

However, there was little question of his desire to return to Spain as he had admitted: "I wish I was playing for Real Madrid. It has always been my dream since I was little to play there."

Wenger responded: "He has the right to have a club of his dreams in his country. Who wouldn't have that?"

Cole inquest

Wenger also revealed he has still not asked Ashley Cole whether he illegally met Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho - as he already knows the truth.

When asked why he had not directly confronted Cole, Wenger responded: "What does that change? Who tells you that I do not know what happened?

"You must think I'm really naive. The fact that I know what happened doesn't change what I can do."

Wenger seems reluctant to put Cole, whom he is still trying to sign a new contract Arsenal, on the spot.

"I said that I hadn't asked him and you know why?" he asked.

When it was put to him that it had been because he already knew the truth, the Arsenal boss nodded.

"It's for the Premier League to get the truth out. What does it change if I know the truth or not?" he added.

"We're in the middle of a storm which we have done nothing to help cause. It's been a big disturbance to us. The moment was especially unpleasant, the day before the Manchester United game.

"What have we done wrong? If somebody has done anything wrong, it's Chelsea. They can say yes or no."

Cole could nevertheless still be called to give evidence if an official hearing is held, although Wenger concluded: "The Premier League will have to decide that."