Song: Young Gunners maturing into challengers
Arsenal midfielder Alex Song believes the Gunners' youngsters are finally coming of age and insists that he and his team-mates have now added substance to their undoubted style.
Song chalked up his third goal in as many games to secure a hard-earned 1-0 victory over West Ham with a late header at Emirates Stadium on Saturday.
The 23-year-old Cameroon international has certainly come a long way since joining the Gunners as another youthful prospect from Bastia in August 2005, and he admits that it is only now that he feels he has fully matured into his role in the heart of Arsenal's engine room.
"When I came to Arsenal, I was just 17 years old. Today I am 23. I am more mature now and can learn every single day,'' Song said. "Now I am more confident, which is maybe why I try to push myself. We have a lot of players who have been here for seven or eight years.
"When you play in one team for a long time, with the best manager in the world, you want to give your best every day, that is why you can see it when we are on the pitch - we showed very good character against West Ham and never gave up, which is very good for the future for us.''
Song, who suffered a shin injury during the closing stages against West Ham and will be assessed ahead of the Gunners' Champions League trip to Shakhtar Donetsk, started out life as a centre-back, but endured a difficult spell when first trying to break into the Arsenal team in 2006.
"I never gave up. It was a bad time for me, but I try to learn,'' Song said. "When you make mistakes, you have to learn to be ready for the next step. That is why I push myself. My family help me a lot. I have to say thank you to my wife and children because that is where my inspiration comes from.''
Song believes Arsene Wenger's latest crop of young talent - who stormed into the quarter-finals of the Carling Cup - are on the verge of something special.
"We know this is a very important season for us which is why everyone gives their best to be happy at the end of the season,'' he said. "We just need to give everything to give our best and see what happens in the end.''
Wenger believes Song's improvement is down both to the high level of competition in the Arsenal midfield as well as the player's own improved fitness levels.
"He sees there is big competition in midfield and that helps, because nobody is guaranteed a place,'' Wenger said. "Song has improved his engine. Before he was less mobile, now he does not need a breather when he goes and comes back, that has added something to his quality.
"Since he has more stamina capacity, when we win the ball, he is on the move straight away and, when his timing is good, he arrives at the right moment in the box.''
As well as assessing Song, Wenger will also check on the fitness of captain Cesc Fabregas, who had been troubled by a hamstring problem, ahead of the trip to Ukraine.
The Arsenal manager believes as long as his team can keep within touching distance of the top sides, then they have every chance to land a first league championship since the unbeaten campaign of 2003-2004.
"Chelsea is a the super-favourite and everybody else is chasing,'' Wenger maintained. "Our advantage is that we have played already at Chelsea, at Manchester City, at Liverpool and we will go to Manchester United in December.
"For us it is very important to keep in touch with the top teams knowing we will play them all at home in the second part of the season, with the absolute need to beat them here. If we can keep in touch until the second part of the season, we have a chance.''