Wenger starts title countdown

Arsene Wenger is already counting down the days until the end of the season as Arsenal try to hold onto their position on top of the Premier League.

Wenger’s side lead Manchester United by one point and the Gunners boss knows that the last four teams to be in pole position on Christmas Day went on to win the title.

He would happily end the season now if he could but the Frenchman, whose side travel to Portsmouth on Wednesday, believes Arsenal have the staying power to hold off United regardless.

”It’s important to be top and I hope the statistic proves right,” Wenger said. ”If it does then let’s just go straight to the end of the season now!

”But really I feel it’s too early to say. In the last two seasons at this stage there was only one team involved — Chelsea or Manchester United. This year there are more teams in it so it’s impossible to say how things will happen. Being top now is no insurance.

”However, this is one of the few years we have beaten Tottenham home and away. It’s a good sign and it should increase the belief of the team. It shows we can get three points without being at our best.”

Arsenal’s gritty home wins against Chelsea and Tottenham proved they have the character to fight for their first title since 2004, and the return of Cesc Fabregas and Alexander Hleb has given a renewed verve to their midfield.

Even so Wenger would love a present from an old enemy over Christmas.

Sunderland manager Roy Keane was a constant thorn in Wenger’s side during his time at Manchester United. But now he can help the Gunners by inflicting defeat on United at the Stadium of Light.

Keane has been experiencing the downside of managerial life recently as a series of controversial decisions have sent his side spinning into the relegation zone.

United manager Alex Ferguson has been impressed by Keane since he moved into the dug-out but admitted he warned his former star he should stick to the easy life when he retired.

”I never told him to be a manager,” Ferguson said. ”It doesn’t matter whether you are a top player or not. It is a hard profession to go into, harder than it has ever been.

”We have foreign ownership and a different type of media. The demands are far higher than when I first started.”

Chelsea remain in the title hunt after Sunday’s win at Blackburn and will hope to close the gap on the top two by gaining revenge over Aston Villa, who beat them earlier this season.

Blues manager Avram Grant is surprised that the big four are all still in with a chance of winning the league at the midway point of the campaign.

”I think it’s unusual to have four teams fighting for the title in December,” Grant said. ”All four teams won their first game of the Christmas programme, so for you and us it will be an exciting title race this season.

”For us, six points is a gap we can make up.”

Liverpool’s convincing win over Portsmouth last weekend settled a few nerves at Anfield after successive league defeats. But Rafa Benitez’s side have no room for error as they try to catch up with Arsenal.

Reds striker Dirk Kuyt believes they have to win all three Christmas matches, starting at Derby, ”We have to win our next three now at Derby, Manchester City and at home to Wigan and if we can get nine points from those games I think we

will get closer to the other teams,” Kuyt said.

”We want to go on a run and win a lot of games. Every defeat in the league is big one for us because you just want to win and compete with Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea so we can’t afford to lose many more.” – Sapa-AFP

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Steve Griffiths
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