Wenger believes in his Gunners
Arsenal squad as strong as Man United’s
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.