x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Arsenal starting to play like champions

The Cameroon midfielder Song's header very late into the game ends resistance by bottom-placed West Ham and keeps Gunners behind Chelsea.

LONDON // “We’ve only got one Song, we‘ve only got one Song”, roared the Arsenal fans at the final whistle yesterday.
Well, it has been a long time since their favourite chant has been “Campiones, campiones.” Six-and-a-half years, in fact, since “The Invincibles” won the Premier League title in 2003/04.

Maybe this could be the season when Arsenal’s young team finally come of age in terms of silverware after Alex Song got the Arsenal faithful singing with a late winner – the kind that title-winning teams produce – to keep them in the slipstream of leaders Chelsea.

Arsenal are doing well in every competition this season. They face a winnable home match against Wigan Athletic in the Carling Cup quarter-finals at the end of next month and top their Champions League group with three victories from three games.

But the true barometer of class and consistency is the Premier League and that title has eluded their grasp in recent years.
Over the past few seasons this was precisely the sort of game that the Gunners have let slide into a draw or even a shock defeat.

Bottom-of-the-table West Ham United put up stoic resistance and rejuvenated goalkeeper Robert Green produced five stunning saves. And when he was beaten the woodwork was rattled twice.

But, as is the mark of teams that challenge for the title, Arsenal kept their nerve and with two minutes remaining scored the winner when Song timed a late run to beat the offside trap and then stoop to head home Gael Clichy’s measured cross from close range.

As the season moves into November the title race will start to take its proper shape, and while Chelsea have made an impressive start to the season – they too scored a late winner yesterday, against Blackburn Rovers – there is a serious sense of purpose about Arsenal.

In previous campaigns their pretty football at times has lacked a tough edge. Some of their play remains poetic, but now there is a greater sense of pragmatism.

“I think there is a greater maturity about this team,” said Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager. “It looked as though the win was slipping away from us but we kept our patience and kept our pattern.

“It is good sign of a growing team. It is too early in the season to say whether we can win the title but I have a lot of belief.

“We have to do things step by step and I would say that to win the title that we need to step up a gear. But I think that is possible because when I look at the bench I know we think we have a lot of possibilities.”

It was indeed the introduction of Theo Walcott and Niklas Bendtner during the second half that gave the Gunners a new momentum just when they had started to run out of ideas.

As for West Ham, the result emphasised their status as relegation candidates. It was a spirited-enough display, but they offered no attacking threat and they are now starting to be cut adrift at the bottom of the table. Wolverhampton Wanderers, in 19th place, are three points ahead of them.

The pressure on their manager Avram Grant seemed to tell yesterday after he had a touchline bust-up with one of his coaches.
Two minutes after Arsenal’s goal, Grant made a pointless substitution in stoppage time, with Pablo Barrera replacing Valon Behrami, and tempers frayed on the Hammers bench.

David Coles, the goalkeeping coach, exchanged fierce words and pointed his finger at Grant over the futility of the late measure. It is understood that Coles and Paul Groves, the assistant coach, were furious about a change that Grant had made in the 87th minute which contributed to Arsenal’s winner.

Julian Faubert took the place of Vincent Obinna in what seemed a time wasting exercise. But when Clichy crossed for Song to score Faubert had been seen to turn his head away from the ball.

It is understood that West Ham’s co-owners, David Gold and David Sullivan, will meet this week to decide whether they can afford to keep faith with Grant.

As it stands, the only apt song for West Ham is: “Going down, going down, going down.”

sports@thenational.ae

Wolves 2 Manchester City 1
Wolves: Milijas 30’, Edwards 57’
Man City: Adebayor (pen) 23’
Roberto Mancini labelled Manchester City’s performance as the worst of the season after Wolves achieved a shock 2-1 win at Molineux. “We only played for the first 25 minutes,” said City’s Italian manager. “But then we stopped playing and Wolves deserved to win this game. It was the worse game we have played. I don’t know why we this happened but we must regroup and understand why this happened.”

Everton 1 Stokes 0
Yakubu 67’
David Moyes, the Everton manager, hopes Yakubu’s winner against Stoke today will help the forward return to top form. The Nigerian striker scored his first goal since April to secure a 1-0 win. “It is great for Yak to get the goal,” said Moyes. “If you work hard I think the supporters appreciate you and your teammates appreciate you. It would be great if we could get back the old Yakubu. He is certainly getting much more like it and I think you can sense the crowd feel that way.”

Fulham 2 Wigan Athletic 0
Dempsey 30’, 44’
Fulham are beginning to benefit from a change in style after they swept aside Wigan yesterday, according to manager Mark Hughes. Clint Dempsey’s double strike has lifted the club into eighth place in the league. “We made it easy for ourselves because of the manner of our performance. From the start we were on the front foot,” said Hughes. “We had plenty if energy and dictated to the opposition ... we saw the benefit of that today.”

Aston Villa v Birmingham
Craig Gardner believes Birmingham have the potential to become the leading club in the city ahead of today’s derby clash with Aston Villa. “Villa have been the top team for the last few years, “ said Gardner. “Now we’re moving up the table and doing well every week. Villa are looking over their shoulders now, and so they should be. There is the potential to become the city’s top team. I’d like Villa to be underdogs and Blues to be above them. Time will tell won’t it?”
4pm, Abu Dhabi Sports 3 & 5

Newcastle United v Sunderland
Shola Ameoba has backed his fellow Newcastle United striker Andy Carroll to cope with the pressure of being touted as a successor to Alan Shearer – the club’s legendary forward. “The expectations of the Newcastle fans are sky high,” said Ameobi, 29. “That hunger to succeed can heap a lot of pressure on young talents. But Andy is coping with it well. He has been confident enough to take that No 9 shirt – he wants to be the next local hero, and that speaks volumes.”
5.30pm, Abu Dhabi Sports 4