Thursday 18 January 2018

Szczesny finds it hard to play down title talk

Cardiff City 0 Arsenal 3

Aaron Ramsey goes past Don Cowie to set up an attack for Arsenal at the Cardiff City Stadium
Aaron Ramsey goes past Don Cowie to set up an attack for Arsenal at the Cardiff City Stadium

Graham Clutton

In one breath, Wojciech Szczesny refused to discuss Arsenal's chances of winning the Premier League title for the first time since 2004.

In the next, the Polish goalkeeper dropped his guard and predicted that, if Arsene Wenger's class of 2013-14 continue to play with the same swagger as they did on Saturday, they will finish on top of the pile.

And why not? With the imperious Aaron Ramsey pulling the strings, Jack Wilshere and Mesut Ozil offering a constant supply line to Olivier Giroud, and the rejuvenation of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny providing great solidity to a previously maligned back four, at 11/4 the Gunners look a decent bet.

"I don't want to talk about the title challenge," Szczesny said after Ramsey's delightful brace and a first goal in more than five years from Mathieu Flamini took Arsenal seven points clear before yesterday's matches.

"I want to talk about the game on Wednesday. If we get three points against Hull City, then we'll be in a very comfortable position for you guys to talk about the title challenge."

Shortly afterwards, the Pole could not resist the temptation of revisiting the topic. You got the feeling that his second helping was closer to the mark.

"We're in a position that we'd like to be in for as long as possible. It really doesn't matter where we are now, it matters where we are in May. If we carry on like we are now, then I'm certain we'll be top in May."

The Gunners really were that good, at times. Prompted by Ramsey's virtuosity in midfield, they played with structure and accuracy in a first half during which the 22-year-old Welshman broke the deadlock with a firm header from Ozil's 29th-minute cross.

Choosing not to celebrate his 12th goal of the season, as a mark of respect to the club where he spent his formative football years, Ramsey continued to play with vim and vigour.

Szczesny said: "It was obvious that if anyone was going to score then it would be Aaron. We're delighted for him because he's been through a lot. As far as him being the best in the league, I don't care as long as he does a job for the team."

Since returning from a badly broken leg last year, Ramsey – who came through the Cardiff academy and is the youngest player to have represented the Bluebirds – has surpassed expectation. Not only does his low centre of gravity lend itself to a wonderful turn of speed, but it provides exquisite balance. After Flamini converted Ozil's assist, four minutes from time, the Caerphilly-born midfielder helped himself to his 13th goal of the season in stoppage time.

"I'm just as amazed as everyone else. We always knew he was a good player, but to score as many as he has is truly outstanding. Any striker would be delighted with that," added Szczesny.


Wenger heaped praise on the 22-year-old and when asked if £50m would be enough to prise Ramsey away from the Gunners, he said: "No. We don't want to sell anybody. We want to keep the team together. I've suffered enough for years for having to sell the players. Now we are in a stronger position financially."

Wenger believes Ramsey can get even better. "He keeps surprising me," the Gunners boss added. "I was a midfielder and I would have loved to have what he has. He can defend, attack and score goals. What more do you want? He is also young – another quality that I have lost."

Wenger also had cause to be pleased with his defence. It was Arsenal's 10th clean sheet in 22 games of league and cup football this season and one that left Szczesny to lavish praise on his back four.

"The defenders have been fantastic for me. It's really important to play behind the same back four every week. I don't think you realise how important that is." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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