Battling Gunners display mental strength in victory

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON • Scraping a victory when under pressure is often a sign of backbone in potential title winners and Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was delighted his side "dug deep" to beat Newcastle on Saturday.

Laurent Koscielny grabbed the only goal following a corner after 72 nervy minutes at the Emirates Stadium, as the Londoners finally found a way past a fired-up Newcastle to go two points clear at the Premier League summit.

It was not vintage Arsenal and there was little of the style and incision that typically characterises Wenger's sides. However, after claiming a fifth win in six league matches, it was their mental toughness that pleased the Frenchman.

"It was hard work but we prepared ourselves mentally," he told the BBC. "We were not at our best but we had to dig deep and we can do that when needed. It was about solidarity, tired legs and taking a chance from a set piece.

SPIRITED FIGHT

We were not at our best but we had to dig deep and we can do that when needed. It was about solidarity, tired legs and taking a chance from a set piece.

ARSENE WENGER, on the Gunners' narrow 1-0 win over Newcastle

"We were not at our best today but over Christmas, in four games, we took nine points so we can look back and say we did 75 per cent of our job."

Only a surprise 4-0 thrashing at Southampton on Boxing Day prevented Arsenal emerging from the congested Christmas period with an unblemished record.

They have since consigned that to memory with back-to-back victories and with many of their rivals stumbling, Arsenal's chances of securing a first title since 2004 look better than they have in a long time.

Many fans will now be wondering whether Wenger is planning to reinforce their title charge by dipping into the January transfer window.

The Londoners have been linked with a move for Egyptian midfielder Mohamed Elneny from Basel but Wenger said no immediate signings were on the horizon.

"Imminent, no, but we will look," he said when asked if his side would be signing anyone in the window.

Arsenal's only summer signing continues to prove his worth.

Petr Cech earned a record-extending 171st Premier League shut-out on Saturday, making two excellent saves from Georginio Wijnaldum either side of half-time.

"Goalkeepers win you matches and Cech certainly did that," Newcastle boss Steve McClaren said.

But as well as Cech's saves, there were times when Newcastle players failed to hit the target when well-placed, and the result was a third successive 1-0 defeat for his relegation-threatened club.

"I'm scratching my head as to how we got nothing from that game," added McClaren.

"I couldn't fault what we tried to do. Great spirit, fantastic energy, defended well - a complete performance without getting the result."

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 04, 2016, with the headline 'Battling Gunners display mental strength in victory'. Print Edition | Subscribe