Wenger urges fans to keep faith
Arsene Wenger has called on Arsenal fans not to lose faith as the Gunners look to salvage their season by delivering the Premier League crown. Only a fortnight ago, Wenger's youngsters appeared all set to finally come of age in 2011 as they ran out at Wembley for the League Cup final against Birmingham.
Today, the Gunners were facing up to the prospect of another campaign which promised so much failing to deliver once more. They surprisingly lost to Blues before crashing out of both the UEFA Champions League in Barcelona and then the FA Cup to Manchester United.
Former Arsenal midfielder Emmanuel Petit claims the current squad lacks "players with a winning mentality" as a seventh barren season looms on the horizon, while Wenger is reported to be ready to turn to veteran Jens Lehmann to provide experienced goalkeeping cover following an injury to Wojciech Szczesny.
Questions have certainly arisen over Wenger's continued faith in youngsters like the 20-year-old Pole, who will be out for around six weeks after damaging a finger at the Nou Camp, to deliver rather than going out and buying established names with a proven track record.
Nevertheless, Arsenal's Premier League destiny remains very much in their own hands with ten games to go, as they trail leaders United by just three points, but with a match in hand ahead of their crunch showdown at Emirates Stadium on 1 May. Some 9,000 Gunners fans made the journey to Old Trafford on Saturday evening, many of whom had also just returned from a bitterly disappointing midweek trip to Catalonia.
Wenger has called for the supporters to continue to try to lift his battle-weary side on the pitch when they return to league action at relegation-fighters West Brom on Saturday. "The fans were absolutely amazing, and we need them at West Brom now," Wenger told Arsenal TV Online. "Hopefully they keep cheering us and keep the morale as well because we have to support each other now in that final part of the season, because it is a vital part."
The Gunners boss accepts his job is to keep the players positive at their Hertfordshire training base. "It is very hard to take, because they were two major targets of the season, and we are out of them in the space of a few days," Wenger said. "The team has put a lot of effort in, but we have to focus on our next challenge - and that is the Premier League. We have to regroup and show we are mentally strong. I believe yes (we can win the title), but we want to get some players back and not lose any more than we have in the last two games."
Centre-back Johan Djourou is out for the rest of the campaign after dislocating his shoulder at Old Trafford, while midfielder Alex Song (knee) is not expected to make the West Brom game. Captain Cesc Fabregas (hamstring) and England winger Theo Walcott (ankle) are both also big-name absentees, while it remains to be seen whether centre-half Thomas Vermaelen will play again this season after being sidelined since the end of August with a niggling Achilles problem.
With so many fitness concerns, it was something of a relief to see youngster Aaron Ramsey make his long-awaited Arsenal comeback as a substitute at Old Trafford after he suffered a broken leg against Stoke in February last year. The Wales international, 20, now feels fully over his horrific injury, having sharpened his match fitness with loan spells at Nottingham Forest and former club Cardiff.
Ramsey could yet end the season with a Premier League medal if he now goes on to feature in all of the remaining ten matches. "The loan spell at Cardiff did me the world of good, getting out there and playing six games, getting back into the swing of things," he told Arsenal TV Online."Hopefully now I can kick on with Arsenal, get some more time on the pitch to contribute to helping the team win games.
"As long as I play some sort of part in the last ten games and we win the league, them I will be happy with that. Everyone is going to have to give absolutely everything - there are ten games left and there are plenty of points to be won, so hopefully we can bounce back and get the win at West Brom then go on a run to get some silverware."