Theo Walcott believes Arsenal have shown they can do the “dirty things” which are needed to mount a sustained challenge for the Barclays Premier League title.
The Gunners came through a stern examination at West Ham when they battled to a 2-0 win as they made up ground on Chelsea and moved further ahead of Manchester United, while keeping the deficit on leaders Liverpool at just four points.
Gunners boss Arsene Wenger believes any “sign of weakness” will prove costly in what is shaping up into one of the closest title races of recent seasons.
Last year, Arsenal raced clear at the top of the table during the first half of the campaign, before fading badly over the run-in.
However, Walcott believes the manner of the hard-fought victory at Upton Park - which came through a deflected shot from Emmanuel Adebayor with 15 minutes left and a second for the substitute in stoppage time – will have sent a signal the Gunners have added another dimension to their game.
“We knew what to expect when we came to Upton Park and we dug in,” the England winger said.
“The main thing is the three points – sometimes people say that we do not do all the dirty things, which we did during the first half, and that frustrated them at times.
“Then we just dug in and got our goal in the end, before Ade’s second killed the game off.”
Walcott told Arsenal TV Online: “It goes to show that we do not just play pretty football and we can put our foot in when it has to be done.”
Wenger’s youngsters have already lost twice – at Fulham and at home against surprise package Hull – so there is now little margin for further error.
Walcott, 19, said: “The title will go down to the wire and there are going to be a few teams in the race.
“No game is easy because every team in the Premier League is difficult now, it is so competitive.
“However, we just have to concentrate on our selves and winning our own games.”
Next up for the Gunners is a hotly-anticipated north London derby against Tottenham, now under new boss Harry Redknapp.
Having been beaten 5-1 at White Hart Lane in last season’s Carling Cup semi-final second leg – a first defeat against the old enemy in 21 games - revenge may well be on the agenda for Arsenal fans, but Walcott insists the players will just be focussed on getting the right result.
“Tottenham is the biggest game of the whole season for the fans, so if we can do well at home in front of our supporters it will be brilliant,” he said.
“We will not worry about bringing back memories of the cup semi-final. We will just be concentrating on how to exploit their negatives. We just have to get right at them.”
Walcott joined Arsenal during January 2006 from Southampton, where he had worked under Redknapp during his time at St Mary’s.
The teenager, though, is ready to help halt Spurs’ revival in their tracks.
“I have worked with Harry Redknapp and he is a brilliant person to be around,” said Walcott.
“I am sure he will get everyone’s confidence up – but hopefully we will put that back down on Wednesday.”
Robin van Persie – who struck the base of the post with a blistering 25-yard free-kick during the second half against West Ham – knows full well what to expect at Emirates Stadium.
“The Tottenham game is a big one – it doesn’t matter where they are in the table,” said the Dutchman.
“I heard that they won for the first time. That’s good news for them – but we will see what happens on Wednesday.
“For us we have to take it game by game. Winning on Sunday was really important to get three points especially in the back of our heads with the results of Manchester United and the win of Liverpool.”
Arsenal captain William Gallas returned to the side at Upton Park following a thigh problem.
Wenger felt it was a positive performance from his skipper – who could well eventually face disciplinary action after being photographed with a cigarette in his mouth when leaving a nightclub.
“I have not spoken to William yet, because I did not want to do it before the game at West Ham – but he played well,” said Wenger.
Arsenal, meanwhile, are close to announcing the appointment of a new managing director after the departure of Keith Edelman earlier this year.
Axed Spurs’ sporting director Damien Comolli has emerged as a potential candidate, having worked with Wenger as European scout for seven years and helped bring youngsters such as defender Gael Clichy to the club.