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Sydney FC’s form a mess but Graham Arnold still confident of A-League title run

Gliding across the turf: Milos Dimitrijevic runs with the ball during the AFC Champions League Group H match between Urawa Red Diamonds and Sydney FC at Saitama Stadium on Wednesday night. Photo: Atsushi TomuraFollow SMH Sport on Twitter
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Sydney FC might be enduring their longest winless streak under Graham Arnold but the coach is confident the Sky Blues can pull themselves out of the slump and mount a late-season title charge.

With seven matches to go in the regular season, Sydney are sixth, still only six points away from first-placed Western Sydney Wanderers, but only one point clear of seventh-placed Perth Glory, arguably the form side of the competition.

The Sky Blues were right in the mix earlier in the season but haven’t won in five A-League matches and were also beaten 2-0 by Urawa Red Diamonds in their opening Asian Champions League match in Tokyo on Wednesday night.

However, Arnold is staying nothing but optimistic, believing his side is more than capable of salvaging the season and going on late-season rampage, starting with Saturday night’s clash against Melbourne Victory at AAMI Park. “I’m still looking at first place, I’m still looking at Wanderers, I’m still looking at Brisbane,” he said at Sydney Airport. “I know Brisbane have got a very difficult draw in front of them and I know the Wanderers have as well as Adelaide and Melbourne City.

“Apart from the Wanderers, we’ve played them three times, we’ve still got our destiny in our own hands and we’ve still got to play them [the top six] all again. We beat them and we’re three points closer.”

While some see this game against the Victory as season-defining, Arnold isn’t inclined to think it’s any bigger than any other contest between now and the end of the campaign.

“They’re all big games now, there will be plenty of twists and turns before the end of the season with all the teams,” he said. “If you’re in a 10-team competition and there are seven rounds to go, pretty much all the top teams have to play each other still so the top seven teams are battling out for the top six spots. For us, it’s another game, important game, but it’s no different to any other.”

Arnold said he was confident the players had pulled up well from the whirlwind journey to Japan, although he plans to rotate most of the squad. “No doubt everyone is a little bit tired, but everyone is good. We had a few boys in business class, the boys slept well and I just checked with them as we got off the plane,” he said. “We’ve got five fresh players travelling to Melbourne so we’ll leave half a dozen behind but overall [they’re] good. We’ve got probably seven [fresh players] if you count [Milos] Ninkovic and [Alex] Brosque, who only played the last 20 minutes. We’re going down there with good intentions.”

Critical to the Sky Blues’ chances in Melbourne will be halting golden boot contender Besart Berisha, who scored the decisive penalty for Victory in their ACL win over Shanghai SIPG.

The Albanian has already scored 14 goals in the domestic campaign, three behind Melbourne City’s Bruno Fornaroli, and bagged a brace when they last met in November,

“Victory are a good side, they showed on Wednesday night their resolve and fight and when you have Besart Berisha in your team it says enough,” Arnold said. “He’s been the standout in the A-League for a number of years and we’ve got to go down there and contain him and their team. They’re champions for a reason.”

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