LONDON: Arsene Wenger has challenged his Arsenal stars to hold their nerve as the Gunners look to cement their return to the top-four against Everton tonight.
Wenger’s side moved up from fifth to third in the Premier League after Saturday’s dramatic 3-1 win over Norwich, but the Arsenal manager knows there is still little margin for error in the battle to qualify for the Champions League.
The north Londoners are only one point ahead of both fourth-placed Chelsea, who have a game in hand, and fifth-placed Tottenham.
Even Everton still harbour legitimate ambitions of finishing in the top four and a win for David Moyes’ men at the Emirates Stadium would move them to within one point of the Gunners.
In the circumstances, it would be little surprise if Wenger’s players, who have crumbled under pressure far too often in recent seasons, showed more signs of feeling the heat.
“It is a question of nerves,” said Wenger. “The win over Norwich was a balance of nerves, quality and intelligence. We did not do anything stupid when we were 1-0 down and kept faith in our game. That side of the game will be important.
“We know we cannot drop points and we have to go until the end with this consistency.”
But Wenger knows Everton will pose a formidable barrier to his side’s hopes and it may need another late show before the points are sealed today.
With that in mind, the Frenchman has been preaching patience to his players.
“In these type of games, you need to open it up and to do that you have to score, but we did not do that. Then you think ‘let’s not make a mistake’, and you lose a bit of your spontaneous fluency and it becomes a bit more difficult.”
Ferguson hopes midfield stint will boost Rooney
Meanwhile, Sir Alex Ferguson said Wayne Rooney’s encouraging performance in central midfield during Manchester United’s 2-0 win at Stoke City will help his confidence.
Rooney had a hand in United’s second goal as he set up Robin Van Persie, who was fouled by Andy Wilkinson before slotting home the resulting penalty.
“Wayne was brilliant,” enthused Ferguson. “I was thinking he possibly needed a different role in terms of getting his confidence back.
“He has been under a bit of criticism, not serious, but there were some doubters nonetheless.”
Ferguson also defended Van Persie’s recent record, having scored his first goal in 11 games, insisting there was nothing unusual about a striker going through a dry spell.
“Our three forward players had 54 goals between them. For all strikers, and I was one myself, you go through spells when you are not scoring and thinking you will never get a goal,” said Ferguson.
Ferguson also paid tribute to his side’s character as they mastered difficult, windy conditions to go 15 points clear of nearest rivals Manchester City at the top of the Premier League.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 16th, 2013.
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