independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

Arteta: Squad strength vital for Arsenal

Arsenal's Nicklas Bendtner scored when filling in for Olivier Giroud against Hull

Arsenal will need every member of their squad to perform when called upon if they are to last the distance in the Barclays Premier League title race, according to midfielder Mikel Arteta.

Denmark striker Nicklas Bendtner, standing in for rested leading frontman Olivier Giroud, scored his first Arsenal goal since March 2011 when he headed the Gunners in front after just 90 seconds against Hull at the Emirates Stadium on the way to a 2-0 win.

The result keeps Arsenal four points clear of nearest challengers Chelsea at the top of the table, and was achieved despite manager Arsene Wenger making several changes to the starting XI. The likes of England trio Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere and Kieran Gibbs were on the bench, along with club captain Thomas Vermaelen and vice-skipper Arteta.

The 31-year-old Spaniard, who came on as a late substitute for Aaron Ramsey, feels strength in depth will be vital.

"We want players who are in the squad that can contribute and help the team to be successful. Every member of the squad is important and Nicklas is no different," said Arteta.

"He is an Arsenal player and while he is here, he will give 100 per cent. He will not be thinking or doing anything different. I think he likes playing here.

"He has been working so hard since he joined us in pre-season, he got his chance against Hull and scored a very good goal."

There is little respite ahead for Arsenal who host fifth-placed Everton on Sunday, then face a difficult away assignment against Napoli for their final Champions League group match before a crunch clash at Manchester City on Saturday lunchtime.

Arteta, though, insists the Gunners squad are brimming with confidence as they chase down a first trophy since 2005.

"The difference to previous years is we are top of the league when by now we would be 10 or 12 points behind whoever was first before, that is a big difference," he said.

"The confidence and atmosphere is different and we want to maintain that.

"Does it matter we don't have the experience of winning the title before? No - as long as you have the quality, the ambition and togetherness that we have, I think we are in a good position to do it.

"That is where we are and I think the Christmas period is going to be massively important."

German forward Lukas Podolski is set to join in with the first-team squad again as he steps up recovery from a hamstring injury, while Walcott could come into contention to start this weekend after being ill in the build-up to the Hull match.

Midfielder Mathieu Flamini, meanwhile, is reported to have tweaked his groin on Wednesday night, and so will be assessed.

With his forward options now boosted, Wenger again indicated he may not hit the January sales looking for another striker.

Bendtner admits it has been "difficult" watching from the bench as Arsenal stormed to the top of the Premier League, but remains ready for whenever his next chance comes along.

The 25-year-old Denmark forward could have left Arsenal in the last transfer window following several largely unsuccessful loan spells and he then hit the headlines with his off-field behaviour last month following a police caution for causing damage to an apartment building where he lives.

Wenger feels Bendtner has the attributes to produce consistent performances if he is fully focused.

"It is good to see that we can rely on Bendtner and he can come up with a performance," Wenger said on Arsenal Player.

"Everybody has done well. I feel for me it is easy and difficult.

"Easy because no matter who plays, comes in and does very well, difficult because I have always to leave players out who deserve to play, but the attitude and togetherness is great, so that helps."

Hull boss Steve Bruce, meanwhile, accepted it was always going to be "a big ask" for his side to reproduce the type of performance which had seen them beat Liverpool 3-1 at home on Sunday.

"You need the intensity and after Sunday, of course, we don't have the luxury to make five or six changes," he said.

"But we still showed a little bit of something because we stuck at it.

"At least we had a great resilience and never gave up, which is what you require from your team."

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