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Coach Wenger keeps faith despite Arsenal slowdown Hammers struggle to stay out of relegation

LONDON, Dec 25, (AFP): Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is convinced that his players remain on course in their Premier League title challenge despite having picked up just two points from their last three games. Wenger’s side will make the short trip across London to West Ham United on Thursday having drawn at home with Everton and Chelsea either side of a 6-3 thrashing at Manchester City. Arsenal had been seven points clear at the end of November, but now find themselves behind leaders Liverpool — who visit City in Thursday’s late game — on goal difference. Wenger’s men struggled to create chances against Chelsea in Monday’s 0-0 draw, but Wenger insists that the Gunners’ prospects are far healthier than they had appeared at the start of the season, when they lost 3-1 at home to Aston Villa. “The spirit of the players is unbelievably focused and there is a great desire,” he said.

“We are going through a period where it is a bit more difficult, but with that spirit we will come out of that.
“Let’s be serious — after the first game, against Aston Villa, if I’d have told you we would be top of the league, you would have said I was absolutely mad, so let’s not go completely overboard. “We are where we are. The last three games have been difficult, but we have played Everton, we have played Man City and we have played Chelsea.” West Ham are struggling to stay out of the relegation places, but Wenger is nonetheless expecting a testing 90 minutes. “In the Premier League we have have learnt that it is difficult everywhere,” he said. “Chelsea lost at Stoke. We have to go to West Ham and on top of that it’s a derby. We gave a lot against Chelsea, so we have to make sure we are completely focused on that game.”

Wenger will make changes to keep his starting line-up fresh and now has the option of using Lukas Podolski, the Germany forward, who has recovered from the hamstring injury that had sidelined him since August. “Podolski has not played at all since the second game of the season and he lacks a bit of competitiveness,” said Wenger, who will again be without suspended midfielder Jack Wilshere. “It is right to say he can only find it if I play him, but he is just two weeks in training now and I have to make that decision whether to use him or not. “But we need to rotate a little bit because we play so many games now.” West Ham have managed only one win in their last 10 Premier League games and sit just one point and one place above the bottom three.

However, right-back Guy Demel believes that Sam Allardyce’s side have a chance of upsetting the Gunners. “We all know Arsenal is a great side and a force this season, but we are at home, it is a London derby and if we can get our performance right, take our chances that we create and keep it tight at the back, then we always give ourselves a chance,” he said. “Our last two games at home have been a win and a draw, with two clean sheets also in those matches, so we want to keep that going and hopefully send our fans home happy on a Boxing Day match. These games are special.” West Ham captain Kevin Nolan is expected to return to the side after a three-match suspension.

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