Pre-Match Report

Arsenal v Portsmouth - Match Preview

Emirates Stadium

By Richard Clarke    

When a team’s well of talent and good fortune has temporarily run dry, sometimes they have to rely solely on their spirit.

Arsène Wenger called it “guts” as he spoke to journalists deep in the bowels of Villa Park after a heart-wrenching 2-2 draw on Boxing Day.

And the Frenchman is well aware that quality must be deeply drawn upon if Arsenal are to make the short, sharp ascent to the top of Premier League table before May.

As he spoke it was obvious that, yet again, the manager felt hard-done-by after a stalemate against a title rival. As with Liverpool the weekend before, Arsenal had shown ample character to take a point but, like their opponents, felt they deserved more.

However the net result is that Wenger’s side, yet again, failed to make up ground in the title race. Indeed Liverpool’s victory over Bolton saw them slip 10 points behind.

The figure has not shaken the 59-year-old’s belief in his side but it has piled importance upon the visit of struggling Portsmouth on Sunday.

“I believe we know we can play great games and have a great spirit,” he said. “We have what in England you call ‘guts’.

“We were very, very disappointed [at Villa] because we were so close and got caught back. But we have to show that we are strong and can recover quickly.

“There is one way for us to behave. We just have to keep going until the end of the season and see where we are.

“I know if I say now we can be champions you will say that I am crazy but I believe that we can be.”

Surely Arsenal’s persistent run of injuries will send Wenger into despair long before their form does.

Key players like Cesc Fabregas (knee), Tomas Rosicky (hamstring tendon) and Theo Walcott (shoulder) are still months away from a return. Eduardo, out since February, is fit again but lacking match-sharpness and Alex Song will be absent against Portsmouth after limping off at Villa Park.

On the upside, Emmanuel Adebayor is back after suspension and Gael Clichy should have recovered from the calf injury that limited his participation on Boxing Day.

Sunday will see Tony Adams return to Arsenal for the first time as the manager of an opposing team. As a player the centre back was a one-club man, featuring 669 times in red-and-white between 1983 and 2002. He is one of the icons of Arsenal’s history and, for so long, was their clenched-fist captain, a player who would take games and team-mates by the scruff of the neck if necessary.

However a record of three wins in 14 games since taking over from Harry Redknapp in October has put him under immediate pressure at Portsmouth. The FA Cup holders have not won a Premier League game this month, midfield lynchpin Lassana Diarra has been sold and it is suggested some of their better players will follow him out of the Fratton Park exit in January.

It leaves Adams in a parlous position but Wenger hopes the 42-year-old is afforded the time other young, high-profile managers have not been given this season.

“I hope he is, yes,” said Wenger. “We have had Roy Keane and Paul Ince [go already this season]. Then there is Tony Adams.

“People complain there are no managers around these days but there are only managers if they are given time.

“These three were all big leaders as players so that means they have the qualities to be big managers. But they need to be allowed time.

“Sometimes a fast-track position can be a trap. It can be better to learn as slowly as I did but, because of the names involved [with these three], there is a bigger expectation level.

People want to win the title because these managers have won it as a player.

“Overall I feel in this job you need some quality, a good attitude and some luck aswell. Which part is luck and which is quality I don’t know.”

Of course, Wenger has proved his undoubted quality throughout the last 12 years however he’ll argue his luck has deserted him in recent weeks.

Adebayor’s controversial sending off at Liverpool all but ended Arsenal’s hopes of victory in that game and, as good as Zat Knight’s injury-time finish was at Villa Park, there is more chance of a centre half finding Row Z than the back of the net from that range in the final minute.

Still, Wenger is right. There is “one way to behave” and that is to ‘keep on, keeping on’.

This title race has already displayed a cruel and unusual sense of humour. If Arsenal can stay on the coattails of the leaders until the business end of the season there is still a decent chance they will be smiling in May.

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