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Wenger clings to faint title hope

31 December 2012, 14:41

England -  Arsene Wenger feels Arsenal's Premier League title hopes are still alive after a recent revival, but says they have little margin for error if they are to sustain their challenge.

The Gunners' campaign has been reignited by a run of four successive league wins and they travel to Southampton on New Year's Day hoping to break back into the top four.

They will head into the game at St Mary's Stadium three points behind their north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur, who lie fourth, and backed by the momentum generated by Saturday's thrilling 7-3 victory over Newcastle United.

Wenger had refused to rule out his side's hopes of forcing their way back into the title race even when Arsenal's season was in danger of falling apart and pressure was growing on the manager's position.

However, a daunting gap of 16 points still exists between Arsenal and leaders Manchester United, who have also played a game more, and Wenger believes his side must maintain recent standards if they are to close the deficit.

"We come from far and we need to be consistent if we want to have the chance to come back," said the Arsenal manager.

"What is at stake is that we must show we are consistent from game to game."

Consistency has certainly been Arsenal's problem this season and despite the one-sided scoreline, there were enough signs of defensive weakness against Newcastle to give Wenger cause for concern.

Newcastle repeatedly recovered after falling behind before running out of legs late on and the way Alan Pardew's side exposed Arsnal's full-backs will not have gone unnoticed by Southampton manager Nigel Adkins.

Wenger admitted he was worried by his side's defensive display and said: "Yes, because we were three times in front and three times they came back."

And he insisted he will not underestimate a Southampton side who remain in the bottom three.

"They are a team who has learned to play in the Premier League now," Wenger said.

Theo Walcott's hat-trick against Newcastle reinforced the view the England international is ready to make the switch from winger to central striker and the 23-year-old is expected to lead the line against his former club.

But the return of Olivier Giroud from injury has increased Wenger's forward options.

"(Giroud) came on (against Newcastle) and looked very sharp, dangerous on crosses and technically sound," said the manager.

"He had an impact when he came on."

Southampton have strengthened their hopes of survival after losing only one of their last four games and face Arsenal on the back of successive away draws at Fulham and Stoke City.

That record might have been more impressive had they held onto a 3-1 halftime lead at Stoke, but Adkins drew positives from the fact his side found the net three times against a team that had conceded only four home goals before Saturday's meeting.

"We have come away from home and got a point – that is hard to do in the Premier League, especially at the Britannia," the manager said.

"We score goals consistently, but to do that against a very mean defence is very positive for us.

"We showed a resilience and team spirit and a desire to hang in there when everything was getting thrown against us, so that is really positive for the rest of the campaign."

Midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin agrees that recent performances should fuel the Saints' belief that they can spring a surprise against Wenger's side.

"We showed both here (Stoke) and at Fulham that we can win games," Schneiderlin said.

"We know we can score goals and defend, so we will make sure that we take as many points as we can in the second part of the season."

- Sapa/AFP


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