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Arsenal

Mentally tough Arsenal in driving seat

Marc Fox

The momentum towards a fourth Premier League crown for Arsene Wenger's Arsenal is building to the point even the usually understated Frenchman is openly discussing the attributes which might unhinge the Manchester United / Chelsea duopoly.

Mental resilience and squad solidarity might not be traits associated with Arsenal over the past handful of seasons, but Wenger is starting to sound like a man who believes his team have finally disproved the growing criticism.

This has been a hard season for Wenger, in some ways perhaps the toughest of his 14-year North London reign.

Arsenal supporters are used to assessing their title credentials against the league's biggest clubs, and yet this year their side has been dismissed home and away by both Manchester United and Chelsea, flicked aside and seemingly relegated to chasing a Champions League spot once again.

But how delightful must it feel for Wenger and Gunners fans to be able to effectively give United and Chelsea six-point headstarts and still stand a catchable two points behind the leaders in third place with nine games remaining.

Bonded by, among other factors, Adebayor's disrespect and the manner of Aaron Ramsey's absence, the side is now buoyant off the back of four straight Premier League victories and a Champions League rout in midweek.

That league sequence started with victory over Liverpool and has also included the possibly season-defining win at the Britannia Stadium, the scene of FA Cup miserly just four weeks before and of Ramsey's horrific broken leg in a second-half clash with Ryan Shawcross.

This week's 5-0 thumping of Porto was the first time Arsenal had overhauled a first leg deficit in the Champions League - yet another example of the mental toughness cultivated by Wenger's side this turbulent season.

Five games since that seemingly crushing defeat to Chelsea and Arsenal are not only, as Wenger this week admitted, in with a chance, they are in some quarters Premier League title favourites.

"Their confidence is getting bigger at a vital stage in the season. It's just about believing in themselves now," Ray Parlour, the former title-winning Arsenal midfielder, told Sky Sports News this week.

"With the run-in they've got, I think they've got a really good chance to win a lot of games."

While the champions have still to entertain Chelsea on April 3, Arsenal face only Tottenham and Manchester City of the leading sides with five matches against teams currently in the bottom seven, starting Saturday's teatime clash with second-bottom Hull City.

This might have been the sort of game Wenger's side would trip up on, especially with the spine of the side - William Gallas (calf), Cesc Fabregas (hamstring) and Robin van Persie (ankle) - sidelined.

But then again nobody expected the Gunners to salvage their season in injury time at Stoke, and Wenger is being forced to play down Arsenal's title credentials.

"We have as well to be realistic, keep our feet on the ground," he said.

"We are where we are because we have shown a strong mental attitude and a good solidarity within our squad. Let's take care of that because that is very fragile and goes very quickly.

"For me that is the most important thing, that we keep our humility, work hard for each other and then we have a chance."

© Marc Fox & Soccerphile.com


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