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Football: Arsenal title bid on firm ground - Walcott

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Arsenal forward Theo Walcott says that his side's improved defensive performances have strengthened conviction within the club that Arsene Wenger's men can clinch the Premier League title this season.

The Gunners saw out 2013 at the head of the table following victory at Newcastle United and will attempt to start the new year in similar fashion when Cardiff City visit the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday.

Despite being written off by many observers following the opening-day defeat at home to Aston Villa, the first half of the season has confirmed Arsenal's title credentials.

And England winger Walcott believes the key to their progress lies at the back, where Arsenal have conceded only 18 goals in 19 league games -- a record matched only by Everton in the top flight.

"I think you could see from the (final) 10 games last year that it was coming and that we had it in ourselves," he told the club website.

"Everyone has been absolutely solid throughout the whole year."

The 1-0 win at Newcastle followed a 3-1 victory at West Ham United -- results that Walcott believes demonstrate the character within the squad.

"It's been two tough away matches in this period. I think a lot of people doubted that we were going to get results," he said.

"It just shows that we've got great character in that dressing room and we're getting stronger and stronger every week. Everyone trusts each other, which is so important. Going into the new year, we're very excited.

"Every game that goes by that we win is more belief that we're going to win the league. But we won't get ahead our ourselves; we know how crucial every game is.

"We've got to make sure we look after ourselves and hopefully teams will start to slip up.

"Just as long as we keep on believing, which everyone is and we've been doing from the start of the season."

The returns of Lukas Podolski, Laurent Koscielny and Tomas Rosicky from injury this week provided Wenger with some welcome good news, although Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil are out.

And with an FA Cup third-round tie against Tottenham Hotspur looming three days after the visit of struggling Cardiff, the manager is likely to make changes to freshen up his side, with Podolski and Mikel Arteta potential starters.

Cardiff visit north London still in a state of uncertainty following the dismissal of manager Malky Mackay.

The first game without the Scot in charge ended in an agonising 2-2 home draw with bottom club Sunderland, who equalised in the final minute of added time.

With the Welsh side sitting two places and two points above the relegation places, club owner Vincent Tan will hope his side stay out of the bottom three while he continues his search for a permanent successor to Mackay.

Mackay's controversial dismissal has prompted an angry reaction from some Cardiff supporters, but centre-back Ben Turner says that the club must now move on.

"We do need to move forward," he said. "If we look back, we will get relegated. We have to look forward. It's what we want to do.

"That's the one thing the old manager would say -- once the game is over, look to the next one.

"Whatever's happened, you focus on the next challenge. So we want to look forward and he'd have wanted us to look forward and carry on.

"The former manager is not with us any more and obviously we look forward from here. We have to be positive.

"Our task is to stay in the Premier League and I think we have got every chance of doing that at the halfway point."

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/131230/football-arsenal-title-bid-firm-ground-walcott