Wenger hails resilience of table-topping Arsenal

Mon Dec 30, 2013 11:17am IST

Arsenal's Olivier Giroud (R) heads to score during their English Premier League soccer match against Newcastle at St James' Park in Newcastle, northern England, December 29, 2013. REUTERS/Nigel Roddis

Arsenal's Olivier Giroud (R) heads to score during their English Premier League soccer match against Newcastle at St James' Park in Newcastle, northern England, December 29, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Nigel Roddis

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REUTERS - Arsenal, long accused of being too weak during an eight year spell without a trophy, showed their growing resilience in Sunday's narrow win at Newcastle United that sent them back to the top of the table, manager Arsene Wenger said.

The Londoners moved one point ahead of Manchester City with the 1-0 success thanks to Olivier Giroud's second half header and some, mostly, resolute defending in the final stages as they sank deep to protect their slim advantage.

Wenger, looking for his first league title since 2004, hailed the uncharacteristic quality shown by his side, who made it back-to-back league wins after the 6-3 defeat by City and home draws with Everton and Chelsea.

"In the last 15 minutes ,we have shown another aspect of our team - resilience, fight. We threw our bodies in the box," the Frenchman was quoted as saying by Arsenal.com.

"You have seen today a technical aspect of our team that was quite good but as well a mental aspect that was needed in a game of that stature.

"There is something in the team that is special on the mental front where we have many times been questioned.

"But we have shown that at West Ham when we were 1-0 down, we have shown that again today when we were a bit backs to the wall in the last 15 minutes. There's a great solidarity and a great spirit in the side."

Arsenal had led the league by five points earlier this month but defensive frailties were exposed at City before disappointing draws with Everton and Chelsea moved them off top spot and left many pundits questioning their title ambitions.

Further dropped points looked likely as they trailed relegation candidates West Ham United 1-0 away in the second half of Thursday's clash before fighting back to claim a 3-1 win which they followed up with Sunday's success.

"We've come out of very difficult games," Wenger said.

"We played Everton, we played Man City, Chelsea, at West ham, at Newcastle and we dropped some points but I felt it was more down to the heavy schedule and short recovery time we had than to the difficulty of the games."

They host Cardiff City on Wednesday before Saturday's FA Cup third round tie at home to arch rivals Tottenham Hotspur marks the end of the hectic run of Christmas fixtures.

The heavy schedule has taken its toll with record signing Mesut Ozil and midfielder Aaron Ramsey, who has been in a rich vein of goalscoring form this season, both missing the Newcastle match with injury.

The duo's absence was an obvious explanation for the lack of chances created by the visitors, who came close to conceding just before halftime through Moussa Sissoko and then Mathieu Debuchy.

Arsenal controlled the game at the start of the second half with Giroud's header breaking the deadlock, but the striker wasted a glorious chances to double the advantage before the visitors opted to retreat into defensive mode.

Wenger added to that by making protective substitutions in the final stages that left Arsenal with a back five happy to sit on the edge of their area and clear the barrage of balls as Newcastle dictated play.

For all the possession, though, the home side struggled to find a way through the mass of bodies.

Loic Remy providing the only real moment of panic when Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny cannoned a clearance against his head but the ball rebounded past the post.

"For years, we were younger (and less able) to resist this kind of pressure but we have always been up there at the top," Wenger said.

"If you analyse well our results we have always been up there. Last year in this period, we were out of the title race but 2013 we have been quite consistent," he said before turning to this seasons' chances of a 14th league championship.

"Look we believe in ourselves and we are determined to give our best absolutely and to turn back on this season at the end and think we have given our best. I hope it will be enough of course but it's a long way to go - it's too early to say that."

(Writing by Patrick Johnston; Editing by John O'Brien)

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