Belfast Telegraph

How Olympic legend Michael Johnson is speeding up Arsenal's young Gunners

By Sam Wallace

As one of the great athletes of the last two decades, Michael Johnson represented the notion of invincibility in sport long before the great unbeaten Arsenal team of 2003-2004 reached similar heights, although it was an Arsenal squad of rather more modest ambitions that the American watched train yesterday.

Johnson was a guest of the club at the training session before tonight's Champions League game against Olympiakos, the Greek champions, who lost their first game to Schalke. Arsène Wenger has started sending some of his young players to Johnson's athletic performance school just outside Dallas, Texas, during the summer to improve their strength and power with a view to breaking into the first team.

Arsenal's Spanish defender Ignasi Miquel was the most recent graduate of the academy to be dispatched to the Michael Johnson performance centre for work on his power. Had Miquel come back noticeably different? "Yes," Wenger said, "but not fast enough to win a gold medal.

"You have two ways to run quickly. I will teach you now," Wenger said. "First is to do your movement as quickly as possible but you gain that very quickly. You will not improve that at the age of 18. The second is to have more power on your push [off from the ground]. That is quite logical. If I can run at the same pace but can gain power – every time I push I gain five or one inch more – I will be quicker if I can repeat the frequency of my movement."

Wenger went on to explain the development of young players and the testosterone boost that makes them mature at the beginning of their twenties and its likely benefits for Miquel. Sadly for the player himself, he might have been schooled according to one of the greatest Olympians of all time but he was not even among the 18 Arsenal players who trained yesterday. After defeat at home to Chelsea on Saturday, there are some decisions to be made by Wenger on his team tonight.

Abou Diaby is out of action, with Wenger blaming the player's current problems – he came off after 17 minutes of the Chelsea game – partly on the decision by the France Football Federation to call him up during the last international break. "I said many times that if France wanted Diaby in Spain they should not take him for the Finland and Belarus games," he said.

Roy Hodgson is due at the Emirates tonight, partly to watch Carl Jenkinson, who is still holding out for an England call-up amid strong interest from Finland, for whom he played Under-21 football.

Mikel Arteta did not train yesterday and a decision will be made on his fitness today with Francis Coquelin a possible replacement. There is also a call to be made on whether Olivier Giroud starts the game, although it is more likely to be Gervinho who begins as his side's key striker.

Giroud scored for the club against Coventry City in the Capital One Cup, although that does not seem to mean as much to Wenger as the striker might have hoped. "Once the first [goal] goes in maybe the rest will follow," the manager said. "He is upset. I told him not to worry but you say what you want. A striker who doesn't score, doesn't really listen to you. They run it through their minds over and over again."

Wenger was keen to put the brakes on any notion that Jack Wilshere will be back in action soon, appealing to questioners about his return for Arsenal Under-21s on Monday to be "serious". He will continue with Vito Mannone in goal tonight, with Wojciech Szczesny likely to be out for another two weeks.

The Arsenal manager, who will serve the penultimate game of his three-match Uefa touchline ban tonight, also contributed to the debate sparked by Sergio Aguero over what he claimed was the victimisation of foreign players by Premier League referees. Wenger said: "I don't think so. The players are sometimes a victim of what they have done before and when they get a reputation they sometimes might not get penalties that are penalties.

"When the referee sees a dive they are of course harder with the same players and that is a consequence as well. I don't like to go into a nationalistic way of refereeing. People said that foreign players brought the diving in, but I think English players learned very quickly."

Kick-off 7.45pm, Emirates Stadium (Sky Sports 4)

Referee S O Moen (Nor)

Odds Arsenal 1-3 Draw 4-1 Olympiakos 9-1

Manager backs gazidis pay-rise

Arsène Wenger defended the 36 per cent pay-rise awarded to Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis who has seen his total salary package rise to £2.15m, including a £675,000 bonus, according to the club's latest accounts that were released last week.

Wenger said: "I don't know that Ivan Gazidis got a wage rise, I'm happy for him. We signed contracts here. We go to the end of our contracts and we're not interested [in discussion of salaries]."

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