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Van Persie backs Arsenal to keep defying predictions

sports Updated: Aug 21, 2009 11:00 IST
AFP
London

If Arsenal really are mired in crisis, they are doing a fine job of disguising it.

Arsene Wenger's side were supposed to be the weakest member of the Premier League's 'big four' this season, rendered vulnerable by the emergence of Manchester City, the continued progress of Tottenham, Aston Villa and Everton, and the departures of Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Toure.

Hardly a week went by in the close-season without another expert forecasting Arsenal's demise, their pessimism fuelled by Wenger's steadfast refusal to spend big in the transfer market. But, just two games into the new campaign, those predictions are looking decidedly dicey.

Everton were put in their place, emphatically so, at Goodison Park on the opening day, with Arsenal rampant in a 6-1 victory; then a supposedly treacherous trip to Celtic for the first leg of the Champions League play-off round was negotiated with the minimum of fuss, a 2-0 victory putting the Gunners firmly in control ahead of next week's return.

Cesc Fabregas has shrugged off yet more speculation linking him to Barcelona with two sublime performances, Alex Song appears to have provided an end to Wenger's search for a new defensive midfielder and Thomas Vermaelen, the centre-half signed from Ajax, has slotted in seamlessly.

Now, Portsmouth are the visitors to the Emirates stadium on Saturday for a match which should cement Arsenal's impressive start to the new campaign.

Inadvertently, the north Londoners' critics appear to have sparked them into life.

"The season is still young but we have played two important games," Arsenal striker Robin Van Persie said.

"I think we showed in both that we really want to fight for each other and if we can produce that every three or four days, we can make a big step forward.

"Maybe being written off in the media brings the players a little closer together but we will see what happens. I don't want to say too much because I don't want to make the 'enemy' cleverer than they are!

"But if you look at the first two games, we played well. Our targets are as high as last year and if we can stick together and stay together and work hard for each other, we can make it a good season."

If Arsenal's supposed problems have been grossly exaggerated, Portsmouth's have not.

The south coast club spent most of the close-season lurching from one crisis to the next, with uncertainty in the boardroom and chaos in the dressing room, which has seen a host of senior players depart including Glen Johnson and Peter Crouch.

Early season results have been predictably poor, Pompey having slid to single-goal defeats against Fulham and Birmingham, and while performances have been better than those results suggest, confidence is brittle ahead of a daunting game.

"We haven't had much rewards so far this season and no luck at all so it's not been easy," said captain Sylvain Distin, one of the players who has been continually linked with a move away from Fratton Park.

"But sooner or later the bad luck has to turn so we have to keep going and believing. We have been working hard and we are trying to rebuild after losing some players, but the spirit of the team is good."