LONDON. — Manager Arsene Wenger has rejected doubts about Arsenal’s title credentials, saying statistics back him up about the English Premier League soccer leaders on New Year’s day.
Monday’s comfortable 2-0 win over Bournemouth ensured the Gunners end the year on top of the table, above Leicester City on goal difference.
Arsenal have ended the year on top of the English Premier League table on three previous occasions in the last 14 years but they could not go on to win the title in any of those seasons.
“It shows you that we have a good chance as the statistics show you that eight of the past 11 years the team who was top on New Year’s Day won it,” Wenger told reporters.
“I believe that we are mature enough and that we have the requested quality to fight and compete.
“You question our mentality, I don’t. We have to rise above that and show that we can deal with all that and I believe we have to be guided by playing better football and being a real team in every game and show that we can be competitive.
“The most important thing is to feel, at the end of the season, that we have given absolutely everything to be successful.
“After that, if somebody has been better than us, we will accept it, but we want to fight to show that we have a chance.
“I will remind you that only one team won the league without losing a game. That is Arsenal Football Club. It is not the date (New Year’s Day) that is decided you win the league.
Arsenal last won the league in 2004 when the famous “Invincibles” side romped to the title without losing a single game that campaign.
Wenger’s men host third-from-bottom Newcastle United in the league tomorrow.
Meanwhile, Wenger is planning on giving Gabriel more game-time in 2016.
The Brazilian centre-back joined Arsenal from Villarreal in January 2015 for more than £11million, before making his debut in the FA Cup win two weeks later.
The 25-year-old has struggled to nail down a regular spot in the team, having to compete with international defenders Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker.
But having grabbed his first goal in European football against Bournemouth, Gabriel has now won the faith of his manager.
“I played him in a few games since the start of the season,” Wenger said.
“I play him in training with Koscielny, with Mertesacker, we have three central defenders (and) that will be needed, but how I rotate them I haven’t decided yet.
“I trust him completely. He wants to play more, of course.
“I think as well that he is happy here and I’m sure before the end of the season he will play more games.”
And Wenger may allow David Ospina to leave Arsenal in the January transfer window.
The £10million arrival of Petr Cech in the summer has meant that Ospina’s first-team opportunities have been limited to the Champions League and the League Cup.
However, a poor performance against Dinamo Zagreb was followed by a disastrous showing against Olympiakos, and the back-up stopper has not appeared for the Gunners since.
And the emergence of 21-year-old Matt Macey and the proposed return of Wojciech Szczesny means that Ospina is likely to see even less action in 2016.
According to reports in Spain, Wenger will allow the 27-year-old to leave in the transfer window if there is a club willing to take him.
Turkish side Besiktas showed an interest in Ospina earlier this year, and may see him as the ideal reinforcement as they look to secure the Super Lig which they currently top.
English Premiership Fixtures
Tomorrow (all 5pm unless otherwise stated): West Ham v Liverpool (2:45pm); Arsenal v Newcastle; Leicester City v Bournemouth; Manchester United v Swansea; Norwich v Southampton; Sunderland v Aston Villa; West Brom v Stoke City; Watford v Manchester City (7:30pm)
Sunday: Crystal Palace v Chelsea (3:30pm); Everton v Tottenham (6pm). — Reuters.