Wenger's anger gets Arsenal firing

Arsene Wenger might be one of the English Premier League's elder statesmen, but any thoughts that age had dulled his fierce intensity were dispelled at a stroke last week. The Arsenal manager responded to an embarrassingly limp defeat at Fulham last Saturday with that rarest of events: a furious public outburst.

The Frenchman questioned his players' attitude in the boldest possible terms, accusing them of lacking "personality" and "character" and warned a repeat would not be tolerated. The rebuke was as stark as it was unexpected, but the effect was instantaneous.

Four days later, the Dutch outfit FC Twente were put to the sword at the Emirates to ensure another shot at the lucrative UEFA Champions League group stage, a performance appreciated by the club's supporters and accountants in equal measure.

"What happened last Saturday was not Arsenal, and we needed to show it could not happen again," said striker Nicklas Bendtner. "You take in the criticism, but the key is that we knew that we were rubbish and that we could have done so much better. Now we need to show our real selves, and we did well against Twente."

Another emphatic performance against Newcastle on Saturday should finally banish the ghost of Craven Cottage. Arsenal certainly cannot afford many more slips: given that the eventual title winners in the last five seasons have not lost more than five games in total during the entire campaign, the margin for error has never been so fine.

Yet the north Londoners have reason to feel confident. Cesc Fabregas has returned to full fitness, after Arsenal sputtered in his absence at the start of the season, and others should be back after the looming international break.

Harsh words
Wenger admitted harsh words were expressed behind closed doors following the defeat at Fulham but insists his faith was restored by the performance against Twente. "We knew that we did not put in the needed performance at Fulham," he said. "But what happens in between games is not so important: the crucial thing is to respond well in the next game, which we did. Now we have another big game against Newcastle and we need another response to what has happened before."

Newcastle usually travel to this corner of north London in trepidation rather than expectation, but hopes are unusually buoyant on Tyneside. An opening day draw at Manchester United suggested Kevin Keegan's side had finally grown a backbone, and there have been follow-up victories over Bolton and Coventry in the League Cup to maintain the momentum.

Newcastle being Newcastle, there are always caveats. James Milner, the young winger who had enjoyed a flying start to the new campaign, handed in a transfer request on Wednesday and is expected to leave for Aston Villa, while Michael Owen's future has yet to be resolved.

The England striker is a free agent next year, and Keegan is desperate for Newcastle's board to act before January, when Owen will be allowed to speak to rival clubs. "I am not trying to be awkward," he said. "Michael is a very special player. He is very important to this club and my vision for it.

"If other people do not share that it is their problem. I do not say these things publicly for any other reason than I believe it. I know the kind of people you need at a football club. You can wait a lifetime for people who can help take it forward, and he is one. My job is to manage the club and that is what I am trying to do."