ARSENAL boss Arsene Wenger has challenged his young players to go unbeaten for the rest of the season and earn the trophy he feels they are ready for.
The Gunners have been cast as a club in crisis at times in the past year but have now gone 18 matches without a Premier League defeat heading into a their Champions League clash against Villarreal tonight.
Holding an away-goals advantage from the first leg of the quarter-final in Spain last week, Wenger’s youngsters will be within touching distance of the final in Rome if they hold on.
Wenger, whose last trophy was secured in 2005, said: “These boys are winners. I believe in general this team has not got the credit it has deserved because they have behaved every day — the focus these players have shown since the beginning of the season has been fantastic.
“The hunger they have shown in training and the focus they have shown is great, so that’s why we have improved a lot. So there is still a lot more to come. At 21, 22 you can only go upwards.”
Wenger has seen burgeoning maturity in his players in recent months.
Aside from the defeat to Roma, which saw Arsenal win the tie on penalties anyway, the Gunners have not lost in 2009. The challenge now is to carry on until the end of the campaign.
“I believe the determination, the hunger and the quality is there and we face now test after test,” Wenger said. “What makes me confident is that recently, in every single game, when the odds were against us we found the resources within the team with a strong response every time.
“I believe we have turned the season in a very positive way and put ourselves in a great position to qualify and we want to take advantage of that.
“The team has shown great mental strength through the whole season, and we have another good opportunity to show those mental strengths.”
The Frenchman refuses to give up on the title — even if he expects people to call him “crazy” for thinking it — but at the very least expects his team to have a say in the domestic championship.
“We have not given up yet to come back,” he said. “It is very unlikely we will win the Premier League.
“But we give absolutely everything in every game and we still have a chance to do it and to finish as close as possible to the top.
“If we don’t win the league, at least we have a strong word in who else will win it and there is still a little chance to get back on Chelsea. We want to play like we have a good chance.”
There were no Arsenal representatives in the PFA’s player-of-the-year shortlist — but Wenger is pleased with the collective way his squad have responded to a difficult start to the campaign.
He said: “In the first 14 games we lost five and in the last 17 we lost none. That means the team has improved and that the team is on a good way.
“The most important thing is to be faithful to the vision we have of the game and to improve in life.
“At least we know where we go and I believe as well that the club is in a very healthy position financially, structure-wise, player-wise and we have to be very positive.”
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