March 9 2014 Latest news:
Monday, January 6, 2014
It has long been classified as the mark of champions – the unerring ability to keep assembling results without always reaching the highest level of performance.
Manchester United, in particular, turned it into an art form under Sir Alex Ferguson right up until his retirement last season, when they rarely caught the eye as an outstanding side but still lifted the Premier League title.
If anything, Arsenal have come to represent the flip side of the coin in recent years, frequently producing breathtaking passing moves on the field but rarely translating that into the relentless accumulation of points.
Yet Arsene Wenger’s side have begun to show themselves more adept at grinding out results this season, most notably in the Champions League at Borussia Dortmund, but also in domestic games.
Midfielder Jack Wilshere feels that a more gritty element to the Gunners has emerged since the tail-end of the previous campaign, when a late run of victories ensured that they overhauled Tottenham for fourth place.
“Something clicked towards the end of last season,” Wilshere reflected. “We knew we had to get fourth, we had to get results and we went out and got them.
“We were still winning games where we weren’t playing well, and we’ve carried that on this season. I think that’s vital, because you’re not going to play your best every game.
“If you look at the Cardiff game [on New Year’s Day], we weren’t at our best in the first half. Even in the second half, it looked like it wasn’t coming, but we kept trying to the end and that was a massive win for us.
“If we keep doing that we’ll be up there. There have been a few games like that this season and we’ve seen teams like Man United and Chelsea do it in the past. Now we’ve started to do it as well.
“We’ve got great character in this squad – we’re genuine friends who get on off the pitch. There’s a mix of cultures, but we all get on and I think that’s helping us.”
Over the years, many title hopefuls have ultimately seen their challenges derailed by a punishing schedule – often as a result of successful cup runs that contribute to a fixture backlog.
However, with the Champions League not resuming until mid-February, Arsenal should be able to enjoy something of a breather over the coming weeks.
Unless they fail to overcome Coventry City at the first attempt in the FA Cup fourth round, the Gunners face just one midweek fixture – away to Southampton on January 28 – during the next month.
And Wilshere is confident that there is enough strength in depth to cope, even if Arsenal find themselves caught up in a more intense schedule during the run-in.
“Over the last few years we’ve struggled with that, but this year we’ve got a good squad and we can rotate in midfield, which is what we’ve been doing,” said the England international.
“We’ve been playing every three days for most of the season, with the Champions League and the Christmas period, which is always busy. Now we’ve got one game a week, which is going to help us.
“We’ve won a few games in a row now, we’re sitting in a good place in the league and we’re into the next round of the FA Cup. It’s important we get our rest in and we’ll go again next time.”
That FA Cup fourth round spot was secured courtesy of the Gunners’ 2-0 victory in Saturday’s north London derby against Tottenham – the second time they had beaten their neighbours this season.
Of course, the pair have yet to meet a third time, when Arsenal travel to White Hart Lane in March, and Wilshere added: “We always seem to come out on top against them at the Emirates.
“It’s a London derby, pride’s at stake and we did well. But you know it’ll be a difficult game when we go there in the league.”