By Chris Harris

If Arsène Wenger had had his way, Matthew Upson might be lining up FOR Arsenal rather than against them on Sunday.

The England defender arrived at Highbury in the summer of 1997 alongside Marc Overmars and Emmanuel Petit but, unlike that pair, his path to the Arsenal first team was blocked by an outstanding bunch of central defenders.

When Upson was ready to step up and challenge the likes of Tony Adams, Steve Bould or Martin Keown, injury problems restricted his progress. Upson did earn a Premier League medal in 2002 but a year later, after six seasons, 56 appearances and numerous false starts, he left for Birmingham.

Upson became one of the many players who learned much of their trade at Arsenal but put those skills into practice elsewhere. Wenger wanted to keep the centre back but is delighted to see him flourishing with West Ham and England.

"He is one of the players that I would have loved to hang on to," admitted the Frenchman at his pre-match press conference.

"If you take the players in the Premier League who have been educated here there are plenty of them. Steve Sidwell, David Bentley, Fabrice Muamba, Matthew Upson... but at some stage if you don’t play them you have to let them go.

"What is important is that they make a career. Upson has made a fantastic career and I knew he was at the age where I had to give it to him or let him go.

"I felt he had, for a very tall guy, quick feet, good pace, a good left foot, a good long ball and he was good in the air. For a centre back that is not bad. He was good on the ball and that is why I am not surprised he has made a good career."

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24 Oct 2008