Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Arsenal and Cesc Fabregas revel in turnaround and reveal hunger for the title

Cesc Fabregas - Arsenal and Cesc Fabregas revel in turnaround and reveal hunger for the title
By Jeremy Wilson 

Arsène Wenger paused to gather his thoughts when asked recently to name the quality that convinced him of Arsenal's ability to break the Premier League dominance of Manchester United and Chelsea. "Hunger," he said eventually.

It was shortly before Christmas and, at the time, few shared Wenger's confidence. His team had been 11 points behind Chelsea at the beginning of December and the memory of last season's disappointments and internal problems remained fresh in the mind.
Yet, come 9.45pm on Wednesday, Arsenal need only a repeat of Sunday's 2-0 away win over Bolton to be top of the Premier League for the first time since the opening week of the season. It has been some turnaround, particularly in the midst of injury crises both in attack and midfield.

"We refused to give up, continued to fight and believed in our strengths," said Wenger. "The biggest test in our camp was the mental strength and solidarity of the players. We have a great solidarity, a great team spirit. Why should we stop here when we have taken so many points from our opponents? Now we have a chance to keep that momentum going."
Cesc Fabregas has come to embody that increased resilience and, like Wenger, he pinpoints the collective desire within a group of players who, having largely grown up together, are still waiting for their first silverware.
"I'm sure other teams will think the same as us, that they can win the league, but there will be no team that wants to win it more than us, for sure," said Fabregas. "We have to go game by game, take it easy. Let's not get too carried away. There are many, many games where you can lose or win points. We have to be ready for Bolton again – no excuses."
A range of factors explain Arsenal's enhanced staying power. An extra year has left them more able to cope when their opponents adopt physical tactics, while the signings of Thomas Vermaelen and Andrei Arshavin have also brought added steel and quality.
It has contributed to a transformation in the atmosphere at the Emirates, notably among a home fanbase that can be difficult to please. The key, though, remains Fabregas, who is beginning to assume the sort of talismanic influence at Arsenal of Thierry Henry. With 13 goals already from midfield, he is a convincing early candidate for player of the season.
Wenger refuses to join that debate but does regularly pinpoint his captain's extra physical strength and ongoing desire for self-improvement.
Even after a virtuoso display on Sunday, Fabregas was not satisfied. "I am happy with the team's contribution, I will never be happy as an individual because you can always do better but the team was really good," he said.
Yet as the chance to go top of the Premier League beckons, a different sort of pressure suddenly rests on the young shoulders of this Arsenal squad. It is one thing to produce results to get back into contention, quite another to maintain that momentum when the finishing line is coming into sight.
As Wenger has consistently said, capturing that first trophy together will be the most difficult. It will also be the most important and was one of the main reasons why Sol Campbell, a winner of silverware at Tottenham, Arsenal and Portsmouth, was recruited.


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