Arsenal’s Wenger eyeing top-four berth

OFFSIDE?:While the Gunners manager believes his side are gaining momentum, Hammers boss Sam Allardyce was frustrated after Alex Song’s early strike was ruled out


Tue, Dec 30, 2014 - Page 18

Arsene Wenger believes Arsenal are gathering momentum at the right time after they enhanced their prospects of qualifying for the UEFA Champions League with a hard-fought 2-1 win at West Ham United on Sunday.

First-half goals from Santi Cazorla and Danny Welbeck at Upton Park were enough to help Arsenal leapfrog West Ham in the Premier League table, and, after a spluttering campaign, the Gunners are back on course to finish in the top four and seal a coveted place in Europe’s elite club competition.

“The Champions League is vital for us,” Wenger said. “We have done it 17 years so I’m entitled at least to believe we can do it.”

“It’s still all to do. When you look at the league, everyone fights very hard for it. Southampton, Tottenham [Hotspur], Man[chester] United, so many teams who can fight for these positions,” he said. “I always had that belief, but it’s far from done. We just want to win the next game and be consistent in our performances.”

Another victory at fourth-placed Southampton on New Year’s Day would be a further step in the right direction for Wenger’s side.

“If you look at our recent results we look to be more stable. We have a big game in front of us now at Southampton,” Wenger added.

With the transfer window set to open tomorrow, Wenger knows there will be speculation about moves in and out of the Emirates Stadium, but the Gunners boss is focused on getting his injured players fit rather than any wheeling and dealing.

Out-of-favor Germany striker Lukas Podolski continues to be strongly linked with a move to Inter in Italy, but Wenger has played down the prospect of him moving on and is more concerned at seeing the likes of Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere return from spells on the sidelines.

“There’s nothing concrete there with Lukas,” Wenger said. “At the moment nobody goes out. Ozil is coming back at the back of January, so of course there is a lot of competition up front.”

West Ham were surprise challengers for a Champions League place before back-to-back defeats derailed their charge, but boss Sam Allardyce is hoping for a response against West Bromwich Albion to mark the New Year as he looks to get his side back on track.

“The players have once again given their all. I cannot question their commitment all season,” Allardyce said. “We have to go again now and we have only lost two games. Of course, we want to bounce back against West Brom now.”

Allardyce was also frustrated that referee Neil Swarbrick and his assistant ruled out Alex Song’s early strike due to Diafra Sakho standing offside in front of Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny.

“If we’d been allowed that goal we wouldn’t have lost. We would have kicked on and Arsenal would have found life very difficult from then on,” Allardyce said. “I’ve not spoken to the ref because I don’t see any point in confronting him when you know you’re 100 percent right and he hasn’t had the visuals. You can’t get anything out of telling him how wrong he’s been.”

“Going on what we were told at the start of the season, they got it horribly wrong. He [Sakho] wasn’t in the eyeline of the ’keeper. He didn’t touch the ball,” he said. “Yes he was offside, but we’ve seen so many of those allowed as goals. I’ve not seen one ‘not given.’ Can you tell me what is an offside? Now I’m totally and utterly confused and bewildered. There are far too many inconsistencies.”