Almunia: We are still in title race
Arsenal goalkeeper backs side to bounce back with win at league leaders Chelsea
Manuel Almunia sees no reason why Arsenal should not be confident of once again clawing themselves back into the race for the Premier League title, starting at Chelsea on Sunday.
The Blues missed the chance to tighten their grip on the top of the table on Tuesday night when they could only manage a 1-1 draw at Hull City.
Arsenal may have been unable to rise to the challenge against Manchester United last weekend, as the champions ran out comfortable 3-1 winners at the Emirates Stadium, but victory at Stamford Bridge for the second season in a row would cut the deficit on Chelsea down to just three points.
The Gunners would, though, still then be playing catch-up on both the top two, as United could go a point clear themselves with what should be a routine victory over bottom club Portsmouth on Saturday.
Arsenal were also out-muscled by Chelsea 3-0 at home back in late November, before a 10-match unbeaten league run saw them move into contention once again, even briefly topping the table.
Almunia believes that shows all is not yet lost. "We are on schedule to do good things this season, we have only a little step to get back to the top of the league," said the Arsenal goalkeeper.
"When you think about where we were after the Chelsea game [in November], that is a great achievement. Sometimes it is better to come back from third or fourth to challenge than to be at the top all the time."
Arsenal may have won at Anfield, but they have lost both home and away to United. Their recent form against Chelsea is not encouraging, with the Blues winning an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley in April and then romping to a 4-1 win in north London a month later.
Arsène Wenger, though, will take some solace from United's poor record against their direct title rivals last season, which did not stop the Red Devils going on to claim a third successive championship.
"I always felt the games against the rest of the top four would determine the league," the Arsenal manager said. "But last year Manchester United proved me wrong on that – they won the title after taking just five points from those six games."
Wenger resisted the temptation to dip into the January transfer market, despite still being without injured Netherlands forward Robin van Persie until at least April.
Nicklas Bendtner is, however, back after the best part of three months out following groin surgery, and the Denmark striker could come into contention to start at Chelsea.
Wenger said: "He has a physical presence up there. He is not totally ready yet, but at the moment we are short in that position, so we are happy to have him back."
"When you have been out with long-term injuries it is difficult to motivate yourself," Bendtner said. "But you stay motivated by telling yourself that soon you'll be better. When you come back, you know you are going to be strong."
Croatia forward Eduardo da Silva could also be available this weekend following a hamstring problem, along with combative midfielder Abou Diaby (calf), which would at least give Wenger some options if he wanted to shake up his team selection.
While speculation continues that captain Cesc Fabregas could be lured back to Barcelona should Arsenal finish another campaign empty handed, Wenger shows no sign of wavering from his faith in youth.
A deal could be on the cards for Montenegro Under-21 defender Stefan Savic, while Iceland Under-19 midfielder Ingolfur Sigurdsson — who had also been interesting Manchester United – looks set for a trial.
Wenger has, though, allowed the 18-year-old forward Sanchez Watt, who impressed in the Carling Cup earlier this season, to join Southend on a month's loan.
Arsenal fans, meanwhile, will get the chance to watch instant action replays at the Emirates Stadium on handheld PSPs following a deal with manufacturer Sony.
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