Nicklas Bendtner will challenge for a first team place at Arsenal next season, according to Arsène Wenger.

The tall 19-year-old striker has spent the season on loan at Birmingham. His 11 goals have helped them to the top of the Championship table.

Bendtner is one of a number of players farmed out by Wenger this term. The manager accepts it will be difficult to accommodate them next season should they all return. However he expects Bendtner to compete with the likes of Thierry Henry, Emmanuel Adebayor and Robin van Persie up front.

"He will come back and challenge for a first team place next season," said Wenger. "I've spoken to him about that. He is 18, strong and has a big future. He knows we want him back and he's happy about that.

"There is a lot of competition, a lot of good young players but if they are good enough then they will come through.

"We have Bendtner. Fabrice Muamba might stay one more year at Birmingham. Seb Larsson and Anthony Stokes have signed permanently while Lupoli has gone to Fiorentina because he was free. But Kerrea Gilbert might come back and Alex Song will.

"It is not a problem of too many young players but it is a problem to get them in, find the right mixture and still be efficient in the team."

Then there is the generation below that. A record crowd of 38,000 watched Steve Bould's Under-18s beat Manchester United 1-0 in the FA Youth Cup Semi-Final first leg at Emirates Stadium on Wednesday.

"That tells you about the size of the Club and the fan base we have," said Wenger. "We have extended in recent years. I feel our supporters are keen to look at the future. They want to discover something special."

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16 Mar 2007