English Premiership

Almunia - No room for error

2009-11-27 17:29
Manuel Almunia (AFP)
Rob Harris

London - For all the silky football and attacking flair, Arsenal goalkeeper Manuel Almunia knows the Premier League title will remain elusive unless his team avoids making sloppy mistakes.

A surprise defeat at Sunderland - the first in more than two months - has left Arsenal eight points adrift of Chelsea going into Sunday's match against the league leader, albeit with a game in hand.

"Because they are one of our direct opponents in the title race we have to make sure we have no silly mistakes," the 32-year-old Almunia told Friday's edition of the London Evening Standard. "People are used to seeing Arsenal as a great team with beautiful football but if we lose our identity for four or five games in the season, you are not going to win the title. Without your identity, you have nothing and you will lose.

"There are players who can lead this team and have great character but I think more people have to show leadership no matter what age they are. In football, with no character you don't win anything."

Arsenal defender William Gallas has a 50-50 chance of featuring because of an eye problem, but Russia playmaker Andrei Arshavin will be available despite needing staples in a wound after a clash of heads with Gallas in the Champions League victory over Standard Liege on Tuesday.

The dangerman on Sunday will be Didier Drogba, who has scored nine league goals for Chelsea this season.

"Drogba is very strong and is in a very good place so we have to be careful about him," Arsenal defender Emmanuel Eboue, the striker's Ivory Coast teammate, told ESPN. "It is very difficult to beat Chelsea at the moment because they are very, very solid and very, very focused. But me, I believe in our team.

"I think it is important to play our game, play forward and to think we can do something against them."

Chelsea's trip to Arsenal is one of three derby matches on Sunday, with Wolverhampton hosting Birmingham and Liverpool making the short trip to Everton.

Defeat for either manager in the Merseyside battle at Goodison Park would further destabilize their positions.

Rafa Benitez has guided Liverpool to just two wins in 10 matches - a slump that has seen the side crash out of the Champions League and slide down the Premier League standings to seventh.

"Benitez has shown that he is the right man to take Liverpool forward," said striker Fernando Torres, who will face a late fitness test. "Now is the time for everybody to stick together. We must be united to finish as high as possible in the Premier League. I am convinced that we will end up in the top four."

While Liverpool's priority is securing one of the four Champions League spots, Everton is becoming embroiled in a relegation struggle. David Moyes is accepting full responsibility for Everton winning just one of its last 10 matches, sending the team to within four points of the bottom three.

"You can't really say that both teams are going into it playing equally as badly," Everton midfielder Marouane Fellaini said. "Everton's run of results has been worse, so we cannot afford to be complacent in any way."

Bottom-place Portsmouth has changed manager this week in an attempt to retain its topflight status.

Former Chelsea manager Avram Grant, who is switching from his role as Portsmouth's director of football to replace Paul Hart, has a daunting first test Saturday at home to defending champion Manchester United, which is looking to close the five-point gap on Chelsea.

"Avram's knowledge is immense," Portsmouth goalkeeper David James said. "He's like Yoda (from Star Wars). His pearls of wisdom are far-reaching. He is just what we need to get us out of trouble. He's very different and profound which appeals to me.

"He has the total respect of me and will get the instant respect of the players. Avram has got what it takes for a relegation fight."

In Saturday's late match, fourth-place Tottenham will be looking to build on its 9-1 demolition of Wigan with a victory over Aston Villa, which is one place and three points behind Spurs.

Manchester City still harbors top four ambitions, but the expensively assembled squad must end a six-match drawing streak against a resurgent Hull on Saturday.

Blackburn will be hosting Stoke without Sam Allardyce in the dugout as the manager recovers from scheduled heart surgery on Friday. Also Saturday, Burnley is at West Ham and Wigan hosts Sunderland.

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Southampton v Everton, St. Mary's Stadium 13:45
Stoke City v Tottenham Hotspur, Britannia Stadium 16:00
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