Arsene Wenger has promised to walk the walk after talking the talk in claiming his Arsenal side have what it takes to win the Premier League title before his contract expires in 2017.
Wenger’s Arsenal side have struggled for form this season although they have a chance to string three victories back-to-back tonight when they take on Southampton, having beaten Borussia Dortmund and West Brom in their last two outings.
Such is Wenger’s belief in his current side, he still maintains that the Gunners can catch league leaders Chelsea despite the alarming 13 point gap that has opened up between the two sides after the same number of matches. However, the 65-year-old Frenchman did concede that any prospect of doing so will require “something special”.
Arsenal's injury list
Arsenal's injury list
1/5 Mikel Arteta (midfield)
Like Diaby, the Spaniard is closing in on a return but the Swansea match will come to soon. The club captain last played in November.
2/5 Mathieu Debuchy (defender)
Returned in the FA Cup semi-final win over Reading but has since been ruled out with injury and Wenger confirmed he remains 'unavailable'.
3/5 Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (midfield)
Suffered a hamstring injury against Manchester United in the FA Cup and hasn't played since as it has exacerbated a groin problem. Out at least until May and facing surgery in the summer.
4/5 Aaron Ramsey (midfield)
Aaron Ramsey caught a kick on his calf during the win over Hull and was later substituted. The Welshman was rated 50/50 for the Swansea match by Wenger, but it now appears that he is a major doubt for the clash at the Emirates.
5/5 Danny Welbeck (forward)
Danny Welbeck has not played since the goalless draw with Chelsea towards the end of April after suffering a knee injury. Wenger has confirmed that the injury is 'nothing major', and that he should return to full fitness before the end of the season.
Speaking ahead of tonight’s match against the Saints at the Emirates Stadium, Wenger explained how he feels he has the best chance of emulating the 2003-04 success that he enjoyed – although that side went on to go down in history as the ‘Invincibles’.
"Of course,” Wenger said when asked if the title was a possibility. “We have not started very well, but we never had the squad together since the start of the season. It was a post-World Cup start typically. I think we have what is requested to do it. We have to fight like mad now to come back as much as possible to show that we can compete in every single game."
Wenger also mounted another defence of his position as manager of the club – who he joined 18 years ago in 1996 – and suggests that despite the 10 years and counting for another Premier League success, they have been in the running for top honours.
"We have fought many times for the title,” said Wenger. “People always remember who won it, but the fight has been very tight for long periods in the last eight or nine years. We have a big competition in England, we have to accept that.
“The Premier League level goes always up and this season Chelsea have started very well. They will be difficult to catch, but everybody will fight to come back on them. After 13 or 14 games, you cannot say that the title race is over. You cannot say that is not catchable."
He went on to address the banner that appeared at the Hawthorns on Saturday – and indeed other Arsenal matches in the past – which read: "Arsene, thanks for the memories but it's time to say goodbye.”
Wenger stressed the importance of remaining united in support of the club, if not in the stands then behind the scenes, and believes that the best way to show the unification is through winning performances on the pitch.
He said: "Ideally, yes, but the most important thing is that internally we are very united. We are creating something special inside the club but that has to come out through performances and games won. Our job is to win football games. That is the best way to unite everybody."
In terms of tonight’s match, Wenger has a major dilemma on his hands – and it’s not the first time we’ve said that this season. Both left-backs in Kieran Gibbs and Nacho Monreal are facing fitness tests ahead of the game after they were both injured in the win over West Brom, and the absence of Mikel Arteta and Jack Wilshere means that Mathieu Flamini cannot cover at full-back as he is needed to play the holding role in the midfield.
Wenger hopes to have at least one of Gibbs and Monreal available, but is also considering playing either Calum Chambers or Hector Bellerin on the opposite side than they are used to, such is their problems in defence.
Worse still was the news that Laurent Koscielny could face further time on the sidelines having only just returned from an ankle injury in the weekend victory. Wenger said: "Koscielny could be a problem because his inflammation of the Achilles is not completely gone,” which would likely force Chambers into the middle and either Gibbs or Monreal to start regardless of their fitness.
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