Tough task for silky Gun­ners

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT -

FOR all the silky foot­ball and at­tack­ing flair, Arse­nal goal­keeper Manuel Al­mu­nia knows the Premier League ti­tle will re­main elu­sive un­less his team avoids mak­ing sloppy mis­takes.

A sur­prise de­feat at Sun­der­land – the first in more than two months – has left Arse­nal eight points adrift of Chelsea go­ing into to­mor­row’s match against the league leader.

“Be­cause they are one of our di­rect op­po­nents in the ti­tle race we have to make sure we have no silly mis­takes,” the 32year-old Al­mu­nia said yes­ter­day.

“Peo­ple are used to see­ing Arse­nal as a great team with beau­ti­ful foot­ball but if we lose our iden­tity for four or five games in the sea­son, then we are not go­ing to win the ti­tle. Without your iden­tity, you have noth­ing and you will lose,” Al­mu­nia added.

“There are play­ers who can lead this team and have great char­ac­ter but I think more peo­ple have to show lead­er­ship no mat­ter what age they are. In foot­ball, with no char­ac­ter you don’t win any­thing.”

The dan­ger­man to­mor­row will be Di­dier Drogba, who has scored nine league goals for Chelsea this sea­son.

“Drogba is very strong and is in a very good place so we have to be care­ful about him,” Arse­nal de­fender, Em­manuel Eboue, the striker’s Ivory Coast team­mate, said.

Chelsea’s trip to Arse­nal is one of three derby matches to­mor­row, with Wolver­hamp­ton host­ing Birm­ing­ham and Liver­pool mak­ing the short trip to Ever­ton.

De­feat for ei­ther man­ager in the Mersey­side bat­tle at Good­i­son Park would fur­ther desta­bilise their po­si­tions.

Rafa Ben­itez has guided Liver­pool to just two wins in 10 matches – a slump that has seen the side crash out of the Cham­pi­ons League and slide down the Premier League stand­ings to sev­enth.

“Ben­itez has shown that he is the right man to take Liver- pool for­ward,” said striker Fer­nando Tor­res, who re­mains an in­jury doubt for the match.

“Now is the time for ev­ery­body to stick to­gether. We must be united as a team to fin­ish as high as pos­si­ble in the Premier League.

“I am con­vinced that we will end up in the top four.”

While Liver­pool’s pri­or­ity is se­cur­ing one of the four Cham­pi­ons League spots, Ever­ton is be­com­ing em­broiled in a rel­e­ga­tion strug­gle.

David Moyes is ac­cept­ing full re­spon­si­bil­ity for Ever­ton winning just one of its last 10 matches, send­ing the team to within four points of the bot­tom three.

“You can’t re­ally say that both teams are go­ing into it play­ing equally badly,” Ever­ton mid­fielder, Marouane Fel­laini said.

“Ever­ton’s run of re­sults has been worse, so we can­not af­ford to be com­pla­cent in any way.”

Bot­tom-placed Portsmouth has changed man­agers this week in an at­tempt to re­tain its topflight sta­tus.

For­mer Chelsea man­ager, Avram Grant, who is switch­ing from his role as Portsmouth’s di­rec­tor of foot­ball to re­place Paul Hart, has a daunt­ing first test to­day.

Portsmouth will be at home to de­fend­ing cham­pion, Manch­ester United, who are looking to close the five-point gap on Chelsea.

“Avram’s knowl­edge is im­mense,” Portsmouth goal­keeper, David James, said. “He’s like Yoda ( from Star Wars). His pearls of wis­dom are far-reach­ing.

“He is just what we need to get us out of trou­ble. He’s very dif­fer­ent and pro­found which ap­peals to me.

“He has my to­tal re­spect and he will get the in­stant re­spect of the play­ers,” James added. “Avram has got what it takes for a rel­e­ga­tion fight.”

In to­day’s late match, fourth-placed Tot­ten­ham will be looking to build on its 9-1 de­mo­li­tion of Sun­der­land with a victory over As­ton Villa, which is one place and three points be­hind Spurs.

Manch­ester City still har­bours top four am­bi­tions, but the ex­pen­sively – and hastily – as­sem­bled squad must end a six-match draw­ing streak against a resur­gent Hull to­day. Black­bur n will be host­ing Stoke without man­ager Sam Al­lardyce in the dugout, as he re­cov­ers from heart surgery while Burn­ley is at West Ham and Wi­gan hosts Sun­der­land. – Sapa-AP

Avram Grant

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