Grant says Pompey must 'get nasty' to beat drop

Manager wants aggressive approach to start with visit of high-flying Arsenal tonight
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The Independent Football

The Portsmouth manager, Avram Grant, wants his relegation battlers to get nasty in their fight for survival – starting against Premier League title hopefuls Arsenal tonight.

After picking up crucial results against Burnley and Sunderland, then beating Liverpool following a brave defeat to leaders Chelsea, the hard work was undone with a 2-0 reverse at fellow strugglers West Ham on Boxing Day. Pompey remain deep in trouble, three points adrift at the foot of the table and are about to lose some key men to the African Nations Cup.

Grant, however, is confident his squad have what it takes to drag themselves towards safety, but perhaps need to adopt a different mindset.

"We play football, but maybe we need to be more aggressive – sometimes we are too nice," said former Chelsea manager Grant, who took charge following Paul Hart's dismissal at the end of November. "Only one team that has been bottom at Christmas has stayed up, so we need to fight. It will be tough, but we can do it."

Grant is full of admiration for Arsène Wenger's Gunners – whom he accepts can be "unstoppable" when in top form. However, the Arsenal captain, Cesc Fabregas, who came off the bench to inspire his side to a 3-0 victory over Aston Villa on Sunday, could be out for a couple of weeks with a hamstring injury.

And the Pompey manager believes his team can raise their own game tomorrow night. "We can win against the best sides," said Grant, who will be without suspended midfielder Jamie O'Hara. "We beat Liverpool and played very well against Chelsea.

"If we do everything right then we can pick up the points even though we are bottom of the table." He added: "Arsenal play good, quick football and on their day they are unstoppable. All teams have strengths and weaknesses, but their strengths are so strong. However, we have shown that we can play well against the big teams and hopefully that will continue."

Despite the problems both on and off the field at Fratton Park in recent months, the 54-year-old Israeli is happy to roll his sleeves up and get on with the job in hand. "They are different challenges, but I like a challenge," Grant said. "Believe me, Chelsea was a challenge, but it is also a big challenge here, too. I just want to do my job, take the challenge and succeed with it."

Former Arsenal striker Kanu has been cleared to face his old club before heading off to the African Nations Cup, along with Hassan Yebda and Nadir Belhadj, while Aruna Dindane may also be given dispensation to play ahead of the tournament in Angola.

England international David James (calf) missed the defeat to West Ham, so Asmir Begovic could continue in goal. The 22-year-old had a spell on loan at Championship side Ipswich earlier this season, but is now ready to stake his claim at Fratton Park.

"Being No 1 is my goal and I feel confident at the moment I can do that," Begovic said. "When you are playing well and things are going OK the confidence goes up and I just want to keep it going. "I don't know the situation with Jamo [James]. I am just being told it's game by game. But I always prepare for the games as much as I can and I'm enjoying playing at the moment. As long as I'm playing, I want to keep it that way."

Begovic, a Bosnia-Herzegovina international, added: "My goal is to be No 1 here and it is up to the manager and people to decide what happens."