Fabregas calls on Arsenal to be united
Published 02/02/2010 | 05:00
Cesc Fabregas says Arsenal "have to beat" Chelsea at Stamford Bridge if they are to remain in the Premier League title race.
Should Chelsea win at Hull City tonight, Arsenal will go into Sunday's game eight points adrift of the league leaders following a demoralising defeat at the hands of Manchester United.
But Fabregas has called on his side to show unity ahead of their trip to west London. "It's very easy to say, 'we lost to Manchester United' and get down. That would be crazy. It's up to us to show what we can do," he said.
"It's never a good time to play Chelsea. We have to beat them to stay in the title race. We are still there definitely. I am always realistic -- I'm not going to lie to myself. Chelsea were better than us, United have been better than us. It's something we have to make sure doesn't happen again."
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger must decide if his players truly are good enough to match the vast hope and faith he has placed in them. By being good enough, it is not a question of whether they can qualify for the Champions League, but if they are capable of winning trophies on a regular basis.
To do that, sublime patches of beautiful football must also be backed up by nerve and consistency during those defining moments in a season when the pressure is greatest and the opposition is at its most formidable.
Even taking into account the youth and potential of the squad, some of the recent evidence is alarming. Over the past 10 months, Arsenal have played eight matches against Chelsea and Manchester United. The results? Seven defeats and one draw. In those eight games, they have also conceded 18 goals and scored five.
Wenger will be acutely aware of such a dreadful sequence and, after watching his team concede three or more goals at the Emirates on Sunday for the fourth consecutive time against United or Chelsea, he delivered a blunt assessment. Describing the display as "off-the-mark completely", he called his players "naive" and even pointed to "some mental reasons".
What he meant was not clear but having relentlessly talked this squad up both in good times and bad, it suggested that even Wenger's patience has been severely tested. Denilson and Samir Nasri were particularly anonymous against Manchester United, while Gael Clichy had a forgettable afternoon.
Wenger, though, has also always been cautious of making snap judgments.
Other factors will be considered, not least a run of injuries that has left far too many players short of match fitness. Sunday's defeat will also be viewed in the wider context of the gap they have over fourth-placed Tottenham as well as qualification for the knockout phase of the Champions League for a 10th straight year.
Even so, having been eliminated from both the Carling and FA Cups, Arsenal's next three matches, against Chelsea, Liverpool and Porto, are likely to define their season. Three wins and they will again be full of momentum and facing a run-in that looks easier than their rivals. Three defeats and the 2005 FA Cup victory -- Arsenal's last trophy -- will suddenly seem consigned even further to history. Wenger would also come under pressure to make more significant surgery to his squad this summer.
Clearly players like Thomas Vermaelen, Alex Song, Fabregas, Aaron Ramsey, Andrei Arshavin and Robin van Persie would remain integral to his future vision, but others may have cause to look over their shoulder. (© Daily Telegraph, London)