Sat, Mar 20, 2004 - Page 18 News List

Okocha hoping for change of fortune

FIRING BLANKS The Bolton striker has yet to score in the league, a state of affairs that has boss Sam Allardyce scratching his head and rivals thanking their lucky stars

AFP , LONDON

Jay-Jay Okocha's luck must turn soon but Arsenal fans will be praying it does not happen when Bolton visit Highbury today.

Bidding to extend their unbeaten start to the season to a record-equalling 29 matches, Arsenal will kick off as odds on favorites to overcome Sam Allardyce's faltering side and move another step closer to reclaiming the Premiership title.

But Gunners boss Arsene Wenger, a long-time admirer of Bolton's captain and playmaker, knows Okocha is more than capable of throwing a spanner in the works.

The Nigerian is certainly due a bit of a break. Despite a staggering 105 shots on goal, Okocha has yet to find the back of the net in a league match this season -- a statistic which has manager Sam Allardyce scratching his head in disbelief.

"I can't understand why this guy hasn't got a goal this season," Allardyce admitted. "I'd like to see him get off the mark because a few more goals often follow."

Bolton's French midfielder Youri Djorkaeff will miss out on a reunion with the contingent of his compatriots at Arsenal as a result of the hamstring injury that has kept him sidelined for two weeks.

Now 12 points adrift of Arsenal, Manchester United have virtually conceded defeat in the title race. But with Tottenham the visitors to Old Trafford on Saturday, manager Alex Ferguson will demand a reaction to last weekend's 4-1 humiliation by local rivals Manchester City.

United desperately need to find some form ahead of next month's FA Cup semifinal showdown with Arsenal.

Ferguson's men must also start picking up points if they are not to allow Chelsea, who entertain Fulham today, a clear run for second place and an automatic spot in the Champions League group stage.

Liverpool will be hoping for more of the same from Michael Owen when they entertain struggling Wolves at Anfield. The England striker bounced back from a recent run of poor form -- and penalty misses -- with a double in the midweek 3-0 win over Portsmouth.

That lifted Gerard Houllier's side into fifth and the Frenchman is backing Owen to help Liverpool clinch fourth place and that all-important place in next season's Champions League.

"Michael showed on Wednesday night why he is such a special player and his confidence will now improve because goals do that to strikers," Houllier said.

Dietmar Hamann, Liverpool's other scorer on Wednesday, believes the race for fourth could prove so tight that the Reds may have to win eight of their 10 remaining games to be certain of a place among Europe's elite.

"We have got 30 points to play for but we have also got to go Highbury and Old Trafford," the German midfielder warned.

"I think we definitely need to get over 20 of them and it could take up to 25, which would mean winning seven or eight out of the ten we've got left."

Liverpool's main rivals for the coveted Champions League spot, Newcastle and Charlton, face each other at St James's Park in a clash that Shola Ameobi has dubbed a must-win encounter for the Magpies.

England under-21 striker Ameobi admits the Newcastle have under performed this season.

"The late goals we have conceded have hurt us but overall I don't think we have been as high as last season. If we had we would be 10-15 points ahead of the likes of Charlton, Birmingham and Aston Villa.

"Credit to Charlton though, they have kept going but hopefully our home form, which has been excellent, will see us through."

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