The Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger believes that consistency will now determine the destination of this season's Premier League title and that his side have the momentum to carry them through. To that end he is demanding the utmost focus from his squad and has suspended all contract talks with players like William Gallas, Sol Campbell and Mikaël Silvestre.
After six successive wins in all competitions, Arsenal next visit Birmingham, where their ambitions began to flounder two years ago. Eduardo da Silva suffered a serious injury, only one game out of five was won and they dropped to third behind Manchester United and Chelsea. At present the race is closer and Wenger is keen to avoid the sort of distractions caused at that time by uncertainty over the future of Mathieu Flamini, Alexander Hleb and Emmanuel Adebayor.
"We focus on the games," he said yesterday. "Now we play Birmingham, Barcelona, Wolves, Barcelona and Tottenham. It is a crucial stage for us. We're not dealing with any contracts because we have games every three days. I feel we're winning the battle [with Gallas] but you have to be ready for anything because he's free to sign anywhere he wants. He knows we want to keep him but it has to be, as always, within our set budget."
Gallas has been out injured for six weeks and with Thomas Vermaelen's appeal against his red card last Saturday having failed, Campbell will have to play a fourth successive game in central defence tomorrow rather than being held back for Barcelona's visit next Wednesday. One bonus is that Robin van Persie, who was in superb form when he injured ankle ligaments playing for the Netherlands last November, could return for the rearranged derby at Tottenham on 14 April.
"We have to get him back to full team fitness and that will take two to three weeks maximum," Wenger said. "After that you need a few games to get back to your best. Physically it looks all good, but after that when he plays in games you have to see how his ankle responds."
After losing to United and Chelsea in successive games at the start of last month, Arsenal were nine points behind and had been written out of the Premier League race. Now they are right back in it with a favourable run of games that includes a home fixture against Wolves next weekend while the other two go head-to-head at Old Trafford. "The priority is to keep the spirit, hunger, desire and intelligence that we have shown," Wenger said. "The target has been to play every game like our life depends on it."
He believes that Chelsea's elimination from the Champions' League, while United and Arsenal face quarter-final ties, could work two ways. "They have a mental disadvantage and maybe a physical advantage in the longer run. I know how hard it is to get over a disappointment like that."
Wednesday's 5-0 win at Portsmouth suggested they are over it, however and Wenger admitted: "It's down to who is the most consistent. We've created fantastic momentum but our route has to be perfect."