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‘Chelsea can still finish in top 4’ – Arsenal have right vibe to lift title: Wenger

Crystal Palace’s Ivorian-born English striker Wilfried Zaha (left), vies with Chelsea’s Brazilian midfielder Oscar during the English Premier League football match between Crystal Palace and Chelsea at Selhurst Park in south London on Jan 3. (AFP)
Crystal Palace’s Ivorian-born English striker Wilfried Zaha (left), vies with Chelsea’s Brazilian midfielder Oscar during the English Premier League football match between Crystal Palace and Chelsea at Selhurst Park in south London on Jan 3. (AFP)

LONDON, Jan 4, (RTRS): Chelsea still have a chance of finishing in the Premier League top four and securing Champions League football at the end of the season, interim manager Guus Hiddink has said.

Chelsea beat Crystal Palace 3-0 on Sunday to register their sixth league win of the season and their first since Hiddink took the reins from Jose Mourinho last month.

The win moved Chelsea up to 14th place in the table and 13 points behind fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur, and Hiddink refused to write off his side’s chances of finishing in the top four although he admitted it would be “difficult”.

“Everyone knows there’s a lot of quality but sometimes a team which has just become champions has a tendency to become complacent,” the Dutchman told the BBC.

“When I started, we said mathematically when we could get to a Champions League position it would be lovely.

“It’s difficult because this league has become so strong. Everyone can win from everyone, which means it’s very difficult to get there.

“But as long as we play like (we did against Palace), we can be happy and then results will come. It’s possible still, but a long way to go.”

Arsenal’s victory over Newcastle United has left manager Arsene Wenger confident that his team’s mental strength will help them mount a strong challenge for the Premier League title this season.

Arsenal last won the league in 2004, two years before shifting from Highbury to the Emirates Stadium, and Wenger says the current crop have a charisma that sets them apart from his teams of the intervening decade.

“I think we are more experienced than the teams I had when I moved into the stadium here,” the Frenchman told the club’s website (www.arsenal.com).

“On our day we could play everybody off the park and when you had to dig deep you experienced it was a bit more difficult. It was different.

“We were more questioned on that aspect than the way we played football. Now, (in terms of) the experience, the quality of their attitude, the team always has the charisma.

“If you look at the team as a unit, it is like a person. If you look at your team like a person and the vibes that are coming out — you can sense in this job if you feel it or not.

“I must say (you see) another aspect of your team in a game like (against Newcastle). It is more the mental aspect — you fight, don’t panic and wait for your chance.”

In Per Mertesacker, Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, Petr Cech and Olivier Giroud, Wenger has an experienced core of senior players who have won titles at their former clubs, which should stand Arsenal in good stead as the season builds to its climax.

Manchester United’s 2-1 Premier League win over relegation-threatened Swansea City on Saturday has eased the pressure on their “angry” players, manager Louis van Gaal has said.

Saturday’s win ended United’s eight-game winless run in all competitions, which has seen them being knocked out of the group stages in the Champions League and slip out of the league’s top-four.

“I shall think that now the pressure is lowering, the performance shall be better every week. But that it also dependable on whether or not we score goals,” Van Gaal told British media.

“And when we score goals and we create always chances, then it is a big difference because a lot of journalists are saying the second-half was better. I can say that it was not better.

“It is because they are very angry that we have lost so many games in a row. They are also not used to that, I’m not used to that, losing four matches in a row.”

Newcastle United need to start getting the “fine margins” right if they are to climb out of the Premier League relegation zone, goalkeeper Rob Elliot said after Saturday’s 1-0 loss to leaders Arsenal.

Steve McClaren’s men missed a host of glorious opportunities to take the lead before Laurent Koscielny’s scrappy winner for the hosts in the 72nd minute.

“It’s a good start to the New Year in terms of performance, but performances alone aren’t good enough. We have to start picking up points, quickly,” Elliot told the club’s website (www.nufc.co.uk).

“We’re not far from cracking it. You can see we’re almost there but it’s fine margins and getting those things right. Those small things are the difference between winning and losing.

“The potential is there to be seen. I thought we dominated the game from start to finish. They put us under a bit of pressure but not as much as we put them under.”

The loss left the Magpies third bottom in the table, two points away from safety.

Stoke City have lodged an appeal against the red card shown to defender Geoff Cameron during their last-gasp 2-1 Premier League defeat by West Bromwich Albion on Saturday, the club said on their website (www.stokecityfc.com).

Cameron, 30, was dismissed by referee Lee Mason seven minutes from the end of the game after he appeared to have struck the back of Claudio Yacob’s head.

Tony Pulis’s side, 10th in the league after 20 games, host Liverpool in the first leg of the League Cup semi-final on Tuesday.

West Bromwich Albion striker Saido Berahino should follow in the footsteps of his team mate Stephane Sessegnon, captain Darren Fletcher said after Saturday’s last-gasp 2-1 Premier League victory over Stoke City.

Sessegnon, who scored the opening goal against Stoke, appeared to have no future at the club after taking a taxi ride back to the Midlands after being omitted from the side for a 1-1 draw at Newcastle United in May.

Berahino, who was the subject of four failed bids from Tottenham Hotspur during the close season, scored 20 goals in all competitions last term, has netted only three in this campaign.

“The manager has proved that if you’re not featuring but you do get a chance and play well, you will stay in the team,” Fletcher told reporters.

“That is evident with Sess. Players who are not in the team should look to that and realise if you perform when you’re given your chance the manager will stick with you.

“Sess is an example to everyone. Saido is a great kid who is not in the team right now but he’s got to keep his head down because he’s a great talent and he’s got a number of years to play.”

West Brom host second tier Bristol City in the FA Cup on Saturday, followed by league trips to champions Chelsea and Southampton.

A measure of Tottenham Hotspur’s progress under coach Mauricio Pochettino was their sense of disappointment with a 1-1 draw against Everton in the Premier League at a rainswept Goodison Park on Sunday.

The London club dominated the first half but fell behind to a superb goal from their former winger Aaron Lennon before young midfielder Dele Alli furthered his case for a place in England’s midfield with a classy equaliser just before the break.

Fourth-placed Spurs had to resist intense Everton pressure at times late on as they stretched their unbeaten sequence on the road to nine league games — their best away run for 20 years.

They are six points adrift of leaders Arsenal, four off surprise package Leicester City and three behind third-placed Manchester City. They have lost only twice in the league this season, boast the best defensive record and the joint-best goal difference.

Tottenham have not been English champions since 1961 and, while their priority is a top-four finish to qualify for the Champions League, a title challenge is realistic.

“Normally we have music in the dressing room,” Pochettino told reporters after the the draw. “We did not after this game because we are disappointed. Maybe tomorrow we can feel proud we have a point but now we feel this is two points lost.

“This is good for the future and I’m really pleased because it shows we have a winning mentality.”

The former Southampton manager described Tottenham’s first-half display, when Harry Kane and Ben Davies were denied by the woodwork, as the best of the season so far and was delighted with his side’s mental fortitude at the end of a busy Christmas.

“Our mentality is strong, we are ambitious,” he said.

With Belgian duo Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen, arguably the best centre back pairing in the league, keeping compatriot Romelu Lukaku quiet, Alli a livewire in midfield and France keeper Hugo Lloris again showing his pedigree with a brilliant save to deny Muhamed Besic, Tottenham’s old soft centre has been replaced by a steely spine.

A surprise pre-Christmas home defeat by Newcastle United has been followed by a 10-point haul from their next four games.

It should have been a maximum 12, though, according to Alderweireld, whose superb pass was chested down and volleyed home in a flash by Alli.

“Everyone is disappointed. If you play the first half how we played, you have to score more goals,” he said.

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