Wenger be­lieves in his Gun­ners

Arse­nal squad as strong as Man United’s

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT -

ARSE­NAL man­ager Arsene Wenger be­lieves his squad is as strong as Premier League lead­ers Manch­ester United’s and will be keen for his play­ers to back up his the­ory at home to London ri­vals Ful­ham to­day.

The French­man has in­di­cated he does not ex­pect to add to his squad when the trans­fer win­dow re-opens in Jan­uary, un­less it is badly hit by in­jury in the com­ing weeks.

Wenger has pro­nounced him­self sat­is­fied with the cover pro­vided by pre-sea­son sign­ings Marouane Chamakh, Lau­rent Ko­scielny and Se­bastien Squil­laci but the Emi­rates Sta­dium fix­ture will also fea­ture a player he was un­able to re­cruit be­fore the sea­son be­gan – Ful­ham goal­keeper Mark Sch­warzer.

The Cot­tagers stonewalled at­tempts to lure him across London and the vet­eran Aus­tralia in­ter­na­tional, 38, has now signed a new Ful­ham con­tract, putting paid to any hopes of res­ur­rect­ing the move next month amid un­cer­tainty over the long-term fu­tures of Gun­ners keep­ers Manuel Al­mu­nia and Lukasz Fabi­an­ski.

“I’m de­lighted to have fi­nally signed a con­tract ex­ten­sion with Ful­ham af­ter a great deal of spec­u­la­tion sur­round­ing my fu­ture in re­cent months,” Sch­warzer said. “The club, man­ager (Mark Hughes) and team have all high­lighted their de­sire to see me stay at the Cot­tage and af­ter suc­cess­ful ne­go­ti­a­tions I can con­firm that my fu­ture is with Ful­ham.”

With Sch­warzer com­mit­ting him­self to Ful­ham un­til the sum­mer of 2012, for­mer Arse­nal and Eng­land de­fender Nigel Win­ter­burn be­lieves the Gun­ners still have a goal­keep­ing prob­lem.

“The goal­keeper sit­u­a­tion still wor­ries me,” Win­ter­burn said. “While it looks like Lukasz Fabi­an­ski is the num­ber one now, I still feel he needs to have an er­ror-free run of about 10 or 12 games be­fore we can re­ally say he de­serves to stay in the side. Last sea­son nei­ther of the keep­ers looked good enough for a top club and that is why Arsene tried to sign Mark Sch­warzer.”

Wenger will monitor the fit­ness of for­wards Samir Nasri and Robin van Per­sie. France in­ter­na­tional Nasri was hurt help­ing the Gun­ners to a 2-0 win against Wi­gan in the League Cup on Tues­day while Van Per­sie has only just re­turned from an an­kle in­jury and Wenger is cau­tious about de­mand­ing 90 min­utes of Premier League ac­tion from him, hav­ing used him for 70 against Wi­gan

“I will see how Robin re­cov­ers,” Wenger said. “I ro­tate a bit from game to game at the moment. But we have quite a strong squad avail­able.”

Arse­nal cap­tain Cesc Fabre­gas re­mains side­lined by a ham­string in­jury and Bel­gium de­fender Thomas Ver­mae­len is also still in­jured.

Ful­ham know they will be un­der­dogs to­day and will kick off fourth from bot­tom with just two wins from 15 league games un­der Hughes.

None of their vic­to­ries has been achieved away from Craven Cot­tage and should they lose at Arse­nal, and Wi­gan beat Stoke, then they will be in the rel­e­ga­tion zone.

Pre­vi­ous man­ager Roy Hodg­son took Ful­ham all the way to the Europa League fi­nal last sea­son but for­ward Clint Dempsey promised Hughes the play­ers would fight to make this cam­paign a suc­cess.

“We be­lieve in the man­ager and we can only keep work­ing for him,” the USA in­ter­na­tional said. “It’s not wrong of fans to ex­pect more. Af­ter last sea­son, we’ve come to ex­pect more of our­selves.”

Mean­while, Manch­ester United man­ager Sir Alex Fer­gu­son be­lieves win­ning away to Black­pool will give his Premier League ti­tle-chasers the ideal plat­form for the busy Christ­mas pro­gramme.

United lead cham­pi­ons Chelsea by two points at the top of the ta­ble ahead of their first trip to newly-pro­moted Black­pool’s Bloomfield Road ground since 1974.

Fol­low­ing a Cham­pi­ons League match against Va­len­cia, they then face Chelsea and fel­low con­tenders Arse­nal be­fore tak­ing on Sun­der­land, Birm­ing­ham, West Brom and Stoke be­tween De­cem­ber 26 and Jan­uary 4.

Al­though United’s 4-0 League Cup quar­ter-fi­nal loss to West Ham in midweek ended a 29-match un­beaten run in all com­pe­ti­tions, Fer­gu­son’s faith in his side re­mains undimmed and he is con­fi­dent they can get the bet­ter of Chelsea af­ter los­ing both their league games against the Blues last sea­son.

Chelsea face strug­gling Ever­ton, and will be boosted by the ex­pected re­turns of cap­tain John Terry and mid­field pow­er­house Michael Essien.

Chelsea will look to re­turn to win­ning ways against Ever­ton af­ter col­lect­ing just one point from their last three league fix­tures.

To­day’s other matches see Birm­ing­ham, fresh from their League Cup quar­ter-fi­nal derby win over As­ton Villa, take on Tot­ten­ham, Black­burn fac­ing strug­glers Wolves, Manch­ester City play Bolton and rel­e­ga­tion-threat­ened Wi­gan go up against Stoke.

Base­ment club West Ham will look to build on their shock 4-0 League Cup win over Man United when they travel to Sun­der­land to­mor­row when West Brom also take on New­cas­tle.

Liver­pool wel­come As­ton Villa to An­field on Mon­day. – Sapa-AFP

GET­TING THERE: Arse­nal striker Robin van Per­sie is slowly mak­ing his way back from in­jury.

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