Senderos confident as Arsenal 'grow up'

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The Independent Football

Philippe Senderos believes Arsenal's best start to a Champions' League campaign shows the current side are "growing up" as they refocus for an assault on domestic and European glory.

The Gunners made sure of first place in their group - and seeding for the knockout stages - after leaving it late to see off the challenge of Swiss minnows Thun with a penalty from Robert Pires in Berne last night.

It was a fifth straight win in this season's competition for Arsène Wenger's side, although the Gunners manager admitted the match would have been more competitive but for the first-half dismissal of the Thun defender Armand Deumi.

Deumi was shown a straight red card for tripping Robin van Persie when the Dutchman raced clear on goal after 34 minutes, and Arsenal then allowed the tempo of the game to drop despite their numerical advantage.

In the build-up to the match, Wenger had declared the next few months would prove "crucial" - and felt there were plenty of reasons to be positive.

As well as their impressive European form, Arsenal are now up to fourth in the Premiership table, albeit still some 11 points behind the leaders Chelsea, but with a match in hand. And they are expected to progress in the Carling Cup at the expense of the Championship leaders, Reading, next week.

With Ashley Cole and Alexander Hleb continuing their rehabilitation from injury to close in on a first-team comeback, 2006 could yet prove to be a vintage year for the Gunners.

"We came here to get the win and be top of the group. Now we have to look forward," said Senderos, with the Swiss international centre-back given a warm welcome by the home crowd on a freezing Alpine night.

"We also have important games coming up in the [Premier] League as well, so we are trying to focus on that as well."

The 20-year-old declared: "This team is growing up, it is going forwards all the time. We are playing better and are finding each other better on the pitch. We have got a lot of quality, and we can now show that in the next game at home [against Blackburn] as well."

Despite their undoubted talent, however, had decisions gone against them, Arsenal could have been chasing the match.

The winger Nelson Ferreira saw two efforts flagged offside, the last of which, from a low free-kick on the left which flew straight in the net, seeming somewhat harsh.

Nevertheless, the north-London club overcame their lethargy to start to press at long last during the closing stages, with Pires' late penalty proving decisive after Van Persie had been pulled back by Selver Hodzic, the referee pointing to the spot following the intervention of his assistant.

"We made it a little bit too hard for ourselves," admitted Swedish midfielder Freddie Ljungberg. "We started quite well, but after they got a player sent off, unfortunately our concentration dropped a little bit."

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