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HindustanTimes Fri,29 Aug 2014

Football

Wenger confident after Arsenal silence critics
AFP
Newcastle, December 28, 2013
First Published: 10:21 IST(28/12/2013)
Last Updated: 10:24 IST(28/12/2013)

Arsene Wenger has challenged Arsenal to keep the critics off their backs by winning at Newcastle on Sunday to end the year as Premier League leaders.

Though the Gunners still haven't won a trophy since 2005, 2013 will nevertheless go down as one of their more successful years in recent memory.

Their points tally of 79 for the calendar year is the best in the Premier League and no rival can surpass that even if Newcastle come out on top at St James' Park.

Arsenal regained pole position in the table from Liverpool on Boxing Day thanks to a 3-1 win at West Ham that saw them come back from 1-0 down.

Yet they have still come in for heavy criticism at times this season, with a recent 6-3 defeat at Manchester City sparking renewed claims that Arsenal don't have the mental toughness to win the league.

But Wenger believes the comeback at West Ham was further proof that Arsenal finally possess the ingredients to go on and win the title for the first time since 2004.

"That was a kind of game that many people would have questioned us had we not won and even more if we had lost," he said.

"We have another good game now on Sunday at Newcastle, who are in full confidence as well, so that will be another test. The team wants to do well and the character is great. The concentration is top."

Wenger acknowledged fellow Frenchman Loic Remy poses Newcastle's biggest threat to his defence, which could see Laurent Koscielny return following a knee injury.

Remy, who is on-loan from QPR, has scored 10 goals so far and this fixture has often been a high-scoring one, with Arsenal winning 7-3 at home a year ago and the two sides sharing a 4-4 draw on Tyneside in 2011 when Newcastle came back from 4-0 down.

"Remy is a very good striker and he is very quick and makes very good runs. We have to keep him quiet," said Wenger, who will be without Aaron Ramsey through injury but welcomes back fellow midfielder Jack Wilshere from suspension.

Meanwhile, Arsenal defender Per Mertesacker admits Wenger still needs to strengthen in order to last the distance in the title race.

Ramsey limped off with a thigh strain against West Ham which will see the Wales international miss the remaining festive fixtures and Mertesacker would like to see some new arrivals in the January transfer window.

"We need the right additions. We said that a lot in the summer then Mesut Ozil came, but at this time, in a very special period that only happens in England, you need to get the right additions with players who come back from injury," Mertesacker said.

"We lost Aaron Ramsey so a good player is maybe out for two or three weeks, so we need the right additions now.

"We have a good squad and that is going to be vital in the next couple of weeks."

However, Newcastle manager Alan Pardew is confident his players can maintain their impressive record against the top sides.

Pardew has seen his side post victories at home to Chelsea and Tottenham, and against Manchester United at Old Trafford.

They also held Liverpool after playing with 10 men for almost an hour in an impressive first half to the season that has left them just six points behind Wenger's team, in sixth place.

They have garnered 22 points from a possible 27 and Pardew said: "To beat Spurs, Chelsea and Manchester United says something about my team. There's not so much fear when you're playing the big sides now.

"We're difficult to beat, so both sides know it will be a tough game. We're working very hard, we have strength in depth and it'll be a great match-up with Arsenal."


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