Arsene Wenger believes Arsenal's 1-0 victory over West Ham confirms they now have the maturity to launch a sustained title challenge. Alex Song's 88th minute header secured a victory that looked likely to elude Wenger's side as they battled to remain in touch with leaders Chelsea.
Had they drawn the game against the side who sit bottom of the table, Arsenal would have fallen seven points behind Chelsea after ten games of the campaign. But Song's late winner transformed a potentially disappointing afternoon into a triumph that was marred only by a recurrence of Cesc Fabregas's hamstring injury that could keep the midfielder out of Wednesday's UEFA Champions League trip to face Shakhtar Donetsk.
"It was a relief because when you win with two minutes to go it is always a relief," said Wenger. "We needed to be intelligent, patient not to make a mistake at the back with the West Ham team who had a strong spirit and were well organised. We didn't do anything stupid. We were intelligent.
"We kept going and out of this game you can say we had a great attitude and we have matured. You can see that in the way we handled when it doesn't work for us. I believe that the players remain calmer than before."
And referring to Arsenal's prospects in the title race, he added: "I believe we have a good chance but we want to show consistency first. We go step by step.
"We still need to step up a gear to achieve that but on the other hand there is more to come from this team because they are still players to come back and we had good potential on the bench. So if we keep a good injury record we have a chance.
"It's too early in the season but I have belief. We need to show now from game to game that we can handle every single game with the different aspect that the Premier league has. We played against the bottom team and it was a real battle. We have to show we can compete like that in every game."
Wenger was concerned by Fabregas's injury but took heart from the fact that he finished the 90 minutes. "It was really important we had Cesc, my concern now is there is no setback," Wenger said. "He played a bit within himself, he had a little tension in his hamstring so we hope there is no setback. At half time I hesitated to take him off but then he got better and better."
West Ham manager Avram Grant acknowledged his side are in a difficult position rooted at the foot of the table with just six points but believes the performance at the Emirates Stadium offered cause for optimism.
"I'm not thinking about history," he said, in response to the suggestion that teams at the foot of the table at this stage of the season often struggle to pull clear. Things are possible or not possible but we are not in a situation now that we cannot do it. We need to win games and we will try to win the next game.
"There are six or seven months until the end of the season. Even if we were in this situation in April I would still think we could do it. We are not in a good situation in the league but the team is playing good football, they fight and they are not giving up and that is a good base for the future."