Gunners told to follow cool cat Tom

The Gunners – likely to be missing captain Cesc Fabregas because of

a hamstring problem – will be out to avoid suffering the same

Fratton Park fate as Liverpool, who were beaten 2-0 on their

Premier League trip to the south coast just before Christmas.

Wenger has been full of praise for the way his young side have

hauled themselves back into the title race with four wins from five

league games. However, the Arsenal manager knows it will be no easy

ride at Fratton Park – one of the most intimidating stadiums in the

top flight where the fans are so close to the thick of the action.

It will be a new experience for Vermaelen, who has settled quickly

alongside William Gallas since his £10million summer move from

Ajax. Wenger believes the mild-mannered Belgian has led by example.

“Thomas is a very quiet boy, but very determined,” said the Arsenal

manager. “I believe you see in every ball he plays. He is a good

mixer with commitment and relaxed focus. “That is very important

when you play at the back, that you never panic – because panic is

someting which is contagious and he always looks to master that.”

Under former Chelsea manager Avram Grant, Pompey have produced some

battling displays, notably when going down 2-1 at Stamford Bridge

after being just 11 minutes away from a hard-earned point. However,

the defeat to fellow strugglers West Ham has, according to Wenger,

made Arsenal’s task tomorrow even more demanding. “Portsmouth had a

defeat on Boxing Day, and it was a big disappointment for them,” he

said. “They were direct competitors with West Ham and they lost.

“But Portsmouth is always a difficult place to go anyway. “I

watched them against Liverpool and you need to turn up and to come

out with a top performance.” Arsenal have lost four times in the

Premier League and Wenger accepts the margins for further error are

thin if they are to stand any chance of overhauling Chelsea and

Manchester United. “When you are manager, you never think that you

can afford a blip, but when we were 11 points behind Chelsea, we

definitely could not,” he said. “I still believe that today, but

now we are in a position to take advantage of the other teams

dropping points.” Wenger continued: “Something has deeply changed

in the Premier League. “There are now more teams aspiring to be in

the top four. Already at the start, financially the desire is

there. “The message given to the players at Manchester City, at

Tottenham, at Aston Villa, is: ‘now, we want to go in there’. That

has changed completely the structure.” Fabregas is expected to be

on the sidelines for a couple of weeks after a suspected

reoccurrence of his hamstring strain when sprinting the length of

the pitch to net a crucial second goal in the 3-0 win over Aston

Villa at Emirates Stadium on Sunday. French midfielder Abou Diaby

netted a fine third during stoppage time with a powerful run and

fine finish. Wenger feels the 23-year-old – who has battled back

from a broken ankle during May 2006 – has grown in stature. “Since

the beginning of the season, I have always played him when I have

the opportunity,” the Arsenal manager said. “He looks to grow, with

his touch and now he is dominating the fight. “What is very

interesting in this formation is that in Fabregas and Diaby, you

have not one but two players who are good runners, can come out

from deep and score goals.”