Arsène Wenger will be reunited with John Halls on Sunday when the former Gunner returns to Highbury in the colours of Stoke City.

The 22-year-old was forced to pursue his career away from Arsenal after failing to break into the first team. Wenger is a great admirer of Halls but accepts that the quality of Arsenal's squad was hampering his progress at Highbury.

"He was a centre back and we had top competition in there," reflects Wenger. "I told him to go into a central midfield position but there he had Patrick Vieira, Gilberto, Edu and Emmanuel Petit in front of him.

"If they don't make it here it is not because they are not good players. But the target was to push Gilberto, Vieira and Petit out of the side."

Halls has followed in the footsteps of Steven Sidwell, Jerome Thomas, Matthew Upson, Moritz Volz and other youngsters who could not break through at Arsenal but have established themselves elsewhere.

Wenger is not surprised that Halls has done so well. "He is a boy with character," says the Arsenal manager. "He is fiercely proud and committed with quick feet, good pace and good technique. He was a typically hard English boy."


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7 Jan 2005