Exclusive: Toughen up now to win the title, says ex-Arsenal striker
Martin Hayes says Arsenal must learn to fight tooth and nail for every remaining point if they are take their first Premier League title of the Emirates era. Serious doubts remain over their ability to win ugly but they will need to add brawn to their bea
Martin Hayes says Arsenal must learn to fight tooth and nail for every remaining point if they are take their first Premier League title of the Emirates era.
Serious doubts remain over their ability to win ugly but they will need to add brawn to their beauty when they travel to Stoke on Saturday - a place where they have been accused of being out-muscled after losing there on their last two visits.
Former Arsenal striker Hayes, who won a title medal at Highbury in 1989, agrees the time has come to ally fight with flair.
And the Britannia Stadium will be the perfect test.
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"On paper we have a run-in that you would describe as 'kinder' than Man Utd's and Chelsea's," Hayes tells Ham&High Sport.
"But it brings its own problems. We may be playing opponents lower down the league table, but they are sides that we have struggled against - Stoke being the prime example of that.
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"These sides will normally get beaten by us, but they also know what they have to do if they are to have a chance of beating us. They are physical, they stop-start games to interrupt our flow and they will make the game scrappy.
"They will throw the ball in the box and hunt for the scraps - they know they can't beat us any other way. We have to be able to combat that.
"Chelsea and Man Utd can rise above it and fight for the right to play their football. We will find out over the next few games if we can do the same."
Hayes believes passing football will not be enough in the coming weeks.
"It's that old clich� but it is relevant; we must grind out results, we must be able to win 1-0 and kill the game dead," adds Hayes, who scored 32 times in 128 games before leaving for Celtic in 1990.
"No other side will outpass us. But they can disrupt us. We have to learn that sometimes we should just boot the ball into the stands rather than trying to play our way out of trouble.
"This might not sound like Arsene Wenger's Arsenal, but they might have to start playing percentages football when they need to.
"Arsenal have got themselves in a terrific position in the league with the two teams above them still to play each other.
"Now they need to take advantage and really push Chelsea and Manchester United."
But, despite the likes of Burnley, Hull and Wolves to come in the next month, Hayes is also quick to point out shocks are never far away in the Premier League.
"Never take anything for granted. The beauty of this division - and it is something you don't get in other major leagues in Europe - is that the bottom sides can take points off the top sides," says Hayes, who will always be remembered by Arsenal fans for netting a vital late winner in a tight game at Middlesbrough in the 1989 title run-in.
"Back in '89 I remember we played Derby at home and everyone thought it was in the bag. In fact, we could have won the league that day if we'd won and Liverpool had lost. We lost 2-1."
Hayes highlights four players who he says give Arsenal a stronger base.
"I look at Thomas Vermaelen, William Gallas, Abou Diaby and Alex Song. Those four are key to us because they stiffen us up and make us harder to beat," he adds.
"Diaby is out at the moment but hopefully he will be back sooner rather than later - he can be excellent for us, giving us something different to any other player, and he allows Cesc Fabregas to drift forward and cause damage at the other end.
"If those four are fit I am happy. They will be very important players for us in the next 11 games."
That said, Hayes believes Arsenal's passing game remains their greatest strength, and can win Wenger his first title since 2004 and bring the first trophy to Emirates following the heart-wrenching move from Highbury.
"The neutrals love to watch us for a reason," he smiles. "We play the most wonderful football. We can destroy opponents with our passing. We just need a bit more structure and a few more clean sheets. I believe we have maybe one more safety line to go.
"If Man Utd can beat Chelsea in April, then it will give Arsenal a hell of a chance, provided they do their bit by winning games between now and then.
"If Chelsea win at Old Trafford, I'd say the title is out of reach. But we must win as many games as possible, and drop as few points as possible, if any. Let's just make sure we do our part - and have no regrets.