Newcastle (United Kingdom) 30 December – Arsene Wenger insists his boys have grown into men after backing Premier League leaders Arsenal to maintain their impressive title challenge into the New Year.
Wenger’s team ended 2013 with 82 points — more than any of their Premier League rivals — as they returned to the top of the table thanks to a hard-fought 1-0 victory at Newcastle on Sunday.
Seven of the last nine clubs to head into the New Year at the summit have gone on to win the English title in May.
Wenger refused to let himself get carried away following a win that showed his side has the physical and mental attributes to match their undoubted technical skills.
But the Frenchman admits he was impressed by his players’ resilience as they coped admirably with the absence of Mesut Ozil, who Arsenal hope will only be out in the short-term through injury.
After Olivier Giroud’s 11th goal of the season sealed victory, Gunners manager Wenger said: “Newcastle provided us with a big physical challenge which we stood up to.
“We showed another aspect of our game today — our resilience. We threw our bodies on the line. Technically we were good but we showed a strong mentality.
“There’s something in the team that’s special on that front. We’ve been questioned many times about that (resilience) but we showed our strength.
“There’s a great solidarity and strength in the side. Maybe in past years the young age of the players counted against us in resisting the kind of pressure we were put under here, especially in the final 15 minutes.”
Reflecting on his team’s efforts this year, Wenger added: “We finished well last season and if you look at the bigger picture in 2013 we’ve been very consistent.
“We believe in ourselves and we’re determined to give our best absolutely, and to look back on this season and think ‘we’ve given our best’. I hope it will be enough, of course, but there’s a long way to go.”
Wenger also ruled out an improved January bid for Yohan Cabaye, the Newcastle midfielder who impressed against an Arsenal side he came close to joining in the pre-season.
On France international Cabaye, subject of a failed £13 million ($21.4m, 15.6m euros) bid in August, he added: “Even without Ozil and Aaron Ramsey today we still had plenty of cover with three good midfielders.
“Mesut has a shoulder injury but hopefully he won’t be out for long, maybe one week, but it won’t be a long time.”
Newcastle missed a chance to return to the top six after slipping to only their second defeat in 10 games.
Alan Pardew felt his side deserved something for the way they set about pressuring the leaders, but insisted he was more than pleased with the 33-point return earned by his charges in the first half of the season.
“I believe we can replicate that points tally, and maybe even better it in the second half of the season. I think we can improve on that in the second half,” Pardew said.
Newcastle have failed to beat Arsenal on their last seven visits to Tyneside, and Pardew added: “The margins are so fine at this level. I’m disappointed for the fans and for the players because we’ve not done much wrong to come out with a defeat against our name.
“It’s frustrating we’ve not got a point. It’s just one set play that’s cost us when we’ve not defended well.
“A lot of my players can take massive credit from the way they’ve played, but unfortunately we’ve got nothing to show for it.”