By Richard Clarke

Arsenal’s mental strength this season has surprised even Arsène Wenger.

The manager and his young side were in the firing line earlier in the campaign after a number of defeats left their title hopes looking remote and did nothing to instil confidence for the other competitions.

However the team decided to dig in. Sometimes it was hardly the pretty, pretty football for which they are famous but, since Christmas, Wenger’s side have put together a run of two losses in 28 games in the Champions League, FA Cup and Premier League. Even those defeats - at Porto and Roma – mattered little in the wider context.

That sequence has all-but assured a top-four spot and over the next few days Arsenal can progress to the Champions League Semi-Final for only the second time in their history and the FA Cup Final for the first time in four years.

“Their mental strength this season was a positive surprise for me,” admitted Wenger ahead of the game with Villarreal on Wednesday.

“You can have children who are talented very early in their lives but you don’t know how they will respond with difficulties. But these young players they have shown they are mentally strong.

“When we lost five [Premier League] games in the first 14 you could not predict that we would not lose at all in the next 18. But we have improved quite quickly now it is the period of the season where we have to show that we are mature enough to deal with the type of challenges left in front of us.”

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15 Apr 2009