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Wenger agrees with Walcott over self-belief issues as West Ham await

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. Photo: Daniel Hambury/PA Wire Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. Photo: Daniel Hambury/PA Wire

Wednesday, January 23, 2013
1:03 PM

Arsene Wenger views tonight’s London derby with West Ham United as an “important moment of the season” in which his side must brush off what Theo Walcott labelled a lack of self-belief in the Arsenal camp.

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The England international scored against Chelsea at the weekend but could not affect a turnaround after they fell 2-0 behind in the first half.

That saw the Gunners register back-to-back Premier League defeats, both against Champions League contenders after they slumped to a 2-0 reverse at Manchester City seven days earlier.

“I think players don’t believe they are good enough at times,” Walcott said after the 2-1 Blues loss on Sunday, while insisting that is not the case from what he sees every day in training.

Wenger concurred, saying: “I agree with him.

“The players come out and think, ‘we could have done better’.

“But when you look at the first half [against Chelsea on Sunday] we lost goals we shouldn’t lose, 50/50s you cannot lose in big games.

“Last year we could win big games and on Sunday you come out of the game and think, ‘what is happening?”’

He added: “I don’t question the players’ character, but then you look at the consistency of our results in the big games.

“The attitude of the players is fantastic. They want to do well and are focused [but] maybe a bit too respectful in the big games of other teams.

“Every time we start to show what we can do, it is when the game is already lost. That is what we have to change.”

Starting tonight the north Londoners face a crucial 10-day block of home league fixtures which could shed light on whether they will finish in the top four.

Wenger has never failed to see his side do so and qualify for the Champions League during his 16-year tenure but defeats in any of the games against the Hammers, Stoke City or a resurgent Liverpool side could see them slip further behind bitter rivals Tottenham, who currently sit in fourth place, seven points ahead of them.

Wenger said: “This run of games is a massive test. A big test, big test. It’s a very important moment of the season for us.”

Arsenal have already beaten West Ham 3-1 this season, when striker Olivier Giroud registered his first Premier League goal, seven games into his Gunners career after a summer switch from Montpellier.

Walcott and Santi Cazorla also netted and asked if that was one of his side’s most promising days on the road, Wenger said: “Away from home? Yes. It was one of our better performances.

“We had some good games away from home and even on Sunday [against Chelsea], you cannot say we had a bad game but we missed the start of the game.

“We had one really bad game at Manchester United. Apart from that we are quite good away from home.”

Mohamed Diame opened the scoring for West Ham at Upton Park in October when Arsenal and the Hammers last met and the Senegal international has been heavily linked with a transfer across the capital.

He has a £3.5million buyout clause in his contract and the Gunners boss yesterday admitted his admiration for the defensive midfielder.

“He has a great presence in the games,” the Frenchman said, adding: “I’ve seen him in games where he’s had a big impact, for example against Chelsea where he had a big impact where he came on.

“They have many players who can be dangerous, but he can drive the midfield.”

Tonight’s game could give Wenger a chance to assess the 25-year-old’s suitability after admitting that he was short of numbers in the midfield holding role due to injuries to Mikel Arteta (calf) and Francis Coquelin (hamstring).

While Arsenal this month tied up a new three-year contract to keep Walcott at the Emirates they have yet to do any more business in the January transfer window.

Wenger said: “If we have no injuries we will be alright. If we have big injuries then we are a bit short.”

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Arsenal

Nickname: The Gunners.

Ground: Emirates Stadium (capacity 60,361).

Founded: 1886.

Honours: First Division (until 1992) and Premier League: 1931, 1933, 1934, 1935, 1938, 1948, 1953, 1971, 1989, 1991, 1998, 2002, 2004.

FA Cup: 1930, 1936, 1950, 1971, 1989, 1991, 1998, 2002, 2003, 2005.

League Cup: 1987, 1993.

Fairs Cup: 1970.

Cup Winners’ Cup: 1994.

Leading goalscorer: Thierry Henry, 228.

Leading appearances: David O’Leary, 722.