Arsenal's Mathieu Flamini maintains their young side can come of age this season and deliver the Premier League title.
Arsenal swept aside Newcastle 3-0 on Tuesday night for the second time in the space of four days at the Emirates, with Flamini setting up the first goal, then beating Shay Given in the Newcastle goal from 25 yards. The average age of the Gunners' starting XI was just 24, with Nicklas Bendtner, 20, and 18-year-old Theo Walcott coming off the bench.
The Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, always felt this squad had the potential to win things, but following the departure of talismanic striker Thierry Henry to Barcelona last summer, few supporters expected them to come so far in such a short space of time.
Yet led by the goals of Togo forward Emmanuel Adebayor, the tenacity of Flamini and Cesc Fabregas in midfield and marshalled at the back by the experience heads of captain William Gallas and 'keeper Manuel Almunia, Arsenal continue to impress.
Tuesday night's win extended their unbeaten run in the League to eight matches and ensured no hangover from the Carling Cup exit last week at the hands of Tottenham.
With a Champions League and FA Cup campaign still very much in full swing – respective dates with Milan and Manchester United are coming up next month – there is every reason for Arsenal to believe 2008 could turn out to be a vintage year.
Flamini said: "A lot of people said we were too young at the start of the season - but now we are in February and we are still at the top of the League. We are playing well and I think we have a good chance of winning this title. We are very confident.
"Game after game you see we play fantastic football, our confidence is very high and we will do everything to win the title."
Flamini added: "The team spirit is fantastic. At key moments this season it is always helping us. It is the most important thing and at the end of the season, it will make the difference."
The France international believes he has now "found my place" in the side, having looked set to leave the club in the summer before being convinced to stay by Wenger. His partnership with Fabregas has been impressive and has kept Brazil's Gilberto Silva on the bench. Flamini is more than happy with his role as the midfield "insurance policy".
"I am bit more defensive than Cesc," he said. "He goes forward more and I cover," he said. "I am trying be the insurance policy in midfield and be a little bit bossy. That's my role."
The 23-year-old will see his current deal run out in the summer and as such could sign a pre-contract agreement with another club as talks continue with Arsenal.
However, Flamini said: "My priority is to stay here. I am very happy here. I am happy to play in the team and everything is good.
"My representatives are talking with the club and I hope everything will be good. I want to play game after game. The rest, we will see later."
Fabregas believes the squad has just the right blend of youth and experience to stay the course in the title race.
"We have to wait and see, but at the moment it is looking good," he said. "There is a good combination of experienced players and young players. Everybody is happy, everybody is working hard and we are consistent.
"Even though we are young now we have shown everyone what we can do. It is very important for a top team like Arsenal that we keep going."
Fabregas feels it is going to be a three-horse race over the next 14 Premier League games. He said: "I wouldn't just say it is Manchester United because Chelsea are in a good position. Nobody speaks about them – but they are playing and winning.
"We will see what happens, but I'm sure they will be up there up until the end."
Wenger, meanwhile, continues to place his faith in youth, and believes his recent new signing Luke Freeman is "a very interesting prospect". The 15-year-old forward made his debut for the Arsenal Under-18 side in their 3-2 defeat to Ipswich on Saturday, having joined from Gillingham at the end of last week.
Wenger said: "He has a good eye for the goal, is brave and has a good, positive personality.
"He is only 15 years old of course, so we need to be patient – but he's a very interesting prospect. He is another one for the future."Reuse content