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27 Oct 2008 08:10
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is convinced his side must be regarded as genuine title-challengers following a 2-0 win away to West Ham United here at Upton Park.
With Liverpool having ended Chelsea’s long-standing unbeaten home record, it is Rafa Benitez’s side who currently top the Premier League.
Arsenal remain in fourth place, below surprise package Hull City and are four points adrift of Liverpool, but Wenger believes there is plenty of scope for the picture to change significantly before the end of the season.
“It is tight and it is always changing,” he said. “One week ago everybody made Chelsea super-favourites and today [Sunday] it is Liverpool.
Things change very quickly and that’s what makes it interesting.
“I have said many times that we were very close last year,” the Frenchman added.
“With 83 points you can be champions but Manchester United made a fantastic run in the second part of the season, we dropped a little bit of our quality in April and that was it. Any weakness still, I feel, will be punished.”
The Gunners had Emmanuel Adebayor to thank on a day when West Ham felt they had been worthy of a point.
Wenger, mindful of a hectic period of fixtures, had named the Togo international on the bench but had to send him on with just over 20 minutes remaining.
Immediately Adebayor sent a header just wide, and with a quarter of an hour left on the clock, forced West Ham right-back Julien Faubert into conceding an own goal, with the Frenchman panicked into sticking a foot out to divert his shot past Robert Green.
Green had been excellent form, making first-half saves to deny Theo Walcott, who had earlier hit the bar, and Nicklas Bendtner, although the England international had also been fortunate that a handling
offence outside his box had gone undetected by the officials.
Arsenal goalkeeper Manuel Almunia also had an eventful match, firstly tipping over a rising drive from David Di Michele and then denying Craig Bellamy with an out-stretched leg after Scott Parker had put the Welsh striker through.
West Ham also had a flurry of penalty appeals turned down, especially when they pressed for an equaliser, but were caught when Bendtner’s long ball put Adebayor away in stoppage time with the substitute rounding Green before shooting into an empty net.
The pain of suffering a third successive defeat ahead of a trip to Manchester United on Wednesday was made more acute for the home side when referee Phil Dowd showed a straight red card to Carlton Cole, the forward, for a lunge on Alexandre Song.
West Ham manager Gianfranco Zola is mulling over an appeal but remains convinced the team as a whole is going in the right direction.
“We have been playing well and the players’ commitment is fantastic,” the Italian insisted. “On the pitch they have been doing everything I have asked them to do so I have no complaints.
“We are just not getting results. It is very frustrating because it would be easier for me to have a go at them if they had been playing badly. I have told them they have to believe in what we are doing and stick together because results won’t be far away.
“I have never seen a team that is playing so well lose so many games. It might sound crazy but I am not worried at all because we will get through it.” - AFP
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