Tough task for silky Gunners
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