London (AFP) – Arsene Wenger has insisted his Arsenal players have the character to halt a run of four successive away defeats when they visit Middlesbrough as they look to revive their bid to finish in the Premier League’s top four.
Wenger’s team could be at 10 points off a place among the leading quartet by the time they kick-off at strugglers Middlesbrough on Monday if Liverpool win away to West Bromwich Albion on Sunday.
But whatever the outcome of that match, Arsenal know they need a dramatic improvement if they are to qualify for the Champions League for a 21st successive season.
The dismal 3-0 defeat at Crystal Palace last time out highlighted how far the team has fallen since the period before Christmas when they were viewed as genuine challengers for the Premier League title.
Theo Walcott’s admission after that loss at Selhurst Park that Palace “wanted it more” reflected badly on a group of players who have lost their way and strengthened the belief of all those who believe veteran French manager Wenger should leave Arsenal when his contract expires art the end of the season.
Jack Wilshere, the Arsenal midfielder currently on a season-long loan to Bournemouth, offered his view that the players must take their share of responsibility for the club’s current problems.
“Sometimes a manager can only do so much, as in prepare a team and then the team have to go out there and perform,” Wilshere told Sky Sports.
But despite the recent setbacks, Wenger has backed his players to turn the situation around.
“When things don’t go your way you are tested on the mental front more than on technical quality,” he said. “Our test at the moment is there — can we be united and not divided?
“Top level sport is about character. I can find you hundreds of players with technical ability at the same level as our players,
“What makes the results is the character. These players are at this level because they have the character.”
– Sanchez won’t break Arsenal bank –
The manager has remained tight-lipped about his future although he did comment on speculation Alexis Sanchez could be offered a new £300,000 ($375,630; 353,958 euros) per week contract to remain at Arsenal by insisting the Chile forward would not be allowed to hold the north London club to ransom.
“Some people tell me ‘just give him what he wants’, but then you cannot respect anymore any wage structure and you put the club in trouble as well,” said the Arsenal manager.
Meanwhile Steve Agnew said second-bottom Middlesbrough could yet avoid relegation, despite not having won in the Premier League for four months, a run spanning 14 games.
The top flight’s lowest scorers with 22 goals still have to face Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City in the remaining six games after hosting the Gunners, and the caretaker manager said: “We’re still confident we can stay up, we will keep believing we can get out of the bottom three.”
Arsenal loan defender Calum Chambers is ineligible against his parent club, but midfielder Gaston Ramirez is available after an ankle problem, and full-back George Friend is set to make his first appearance for six weeks after recovering from an calf injury.
Boro have taken six points from the last 42 to put them in grave danger of an immediate return to the Championship, but Agnew feels his side can earn a much needed victory, with Arsenal conceding three goals in each of their last four consecutive away league defeats.
He added: “It’s massive to have George back, he brings great energy and ability to the side. He’s a solid performer and an infectious character around the dressing room who we have certainly missed so his return helps us go into the game in positive mood.”
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