Arsenal fixture threatened by Tube strike


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The Independent Football

Arsenal yesterday became the first London club to signal their home Boxing Day fixture was under threat from proposed industrial action that would hit Tube services in the capital. The club said that they were "monitoring the situation" regarding the proposed London Underground strike which could affect their game against Wolves on Monday.

Chelsea are at home to Fulham on Boxing Day and Millwall, Leyton Orient, Brentford, AFC Wimbledon and Dagenham and Redbridge are also at home that day.

A 24-hour strike is being threatened by Aslef members working for London Underground on Boxing Day as well as three further days over the next month. A spokesman for Arsenal said: "The club is fully aware of the proposed industrial action on London Underground ... the paramount concern to Arsenal Football Club is the duty of care we have towards the Arsenal supporters, Wolverhampton Wanderers supporters, matchday employees and indeed everyone who is planning to attend this match. Any decisions or developments regarding this match will be immediately communicated."

Arsenal's manager Arsène Wenger may have conceded the Premier League title after Sunday's 1-0 defeat at leaders Manchester City extended the deficit to 12 points but the signs are more encouraging that this defeat will not lead to a decline.

A reshuffled back four coped admirably in the main at Eastlands while marginal refereeing decisions – an offside flag and a penalty claim – went against Arsenal and their spirit was a far cry from what it was when they last visited Manchester, when they collapsed 8-2 at Old Trafford in August. That result was the nadir of a galling period for a squad reeling from big-name departures and lurching from one disappointment to the next.

Sunday may have brought a first League defeat since Tottenham edged October's north London derby at White Hart Lane but the resolve in evidence suggests tomorrow's trip to Aston Villa should not be greeted with trepidation.

"The performances have shown that we are much more confident and certainly this game will not take the confidence away from us," said goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny after Arsenal had lost in the League for the first time in nine matches.

"We have Villa on Wednesday and then a reasonably easy run over Christmas and the New Year so we are confident we can get the results. I think the tough times that we have gone through made us stronger in the end.

"We made some quality signings after the poor start to the season that brought the spirit back to the dressing room. The atmosphere in the dressing room is very good at the moment so that made us stronger and I believe we can go very far in all competitions."

Fixtures against Villa, Wolves and Queens Park Rangers take Arsenal into the New Year before they travel to Fulham on 2 January and each challenge must be negotiated without their defender Johan Djourou, who is expected to be unavailable for up to three weeks with a groin problem.

Injuries are mounting and compounded against Villa by a one-match suspension for Alex Song, who picked up a fifth booking of the campaign against City, but Szczesny is adamant his team-mates can fulfil their ambitions. Top of the Polish goalkeeper's priorities is finishing above Tottenham; a task that appears likely to run to the season's climax given Spurs lie five points ahead with a game in hand. "Getting above Tottenham is the main target," said Szczesny.

"We don't want to finish below them no matter what. That's the main target. That's just my personal ambition because I am one of the fans and so it means a lot to me to finish above them. I am confident we will do so.

"They will slip up eventually. They have been in good form recently – you have to give it to them but I am confident we are a better side than them and we will finish above them. Time will tell if they can handle the pressure but they look good at the moment. Hopefully they will drop points in the second half of the season.

"We showed on Sunday that we are just as good as the richest team and possibly, at the moment, the best team in the league so that gives us confidence we can beat everyone else."