Wenger 'has not given up' on title yet

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The Independent Online

Arsène Wenger accepts it "would look a bit pretentious" for Arsenal to claim they will win the Premiership this season. However, he has "not given up" on their title hopes yet.

The Gunners head into the festive schedule 14 points behind the leaders, Manchester United. However, with all their four matches coming against sides battling at the wrong end of the table, Wenger knows the importance of keeping the pressure on with successive wins.

"It looks far away, and that is why I believe at the moment it would look a bit pretentious to say that we will be champions this time, but on the other hand I have not given up," said the Arsenal manager.

"I feel there is potential in the team and we are not missing a lot. Perhaps we are lacking that bit of concentration and the games at home where we are always 1-0 down at set-pieces. I am confident we can get that out of the squad. Overall what makes me positive is this team can make a great comeback because they have a special character and special qualities."

The Carling Cup quarter-final with Liverpool will now be played on 9 January, three days after the sides meet in the third round of the FA Cup at Anfield. Arsenal and Liverpool were keen for their Carling Cup game - scheduled to have taken place on Tuesday - to go ahead because of the hectic festive programme, but the referee, Martin Atkinson, had concerns about visibility for his linesmen and also for the crowd, which could have impinged on safety. Liverpool and Arsenal now both face nine games in the next 40 days.

Tuesday had begun badly for the Gunners when their plane was diverted to Blackpool airport because of the foggy conditions in Liverpool. Then when the match was called off club officials had to work out a way to get the squad home.

The match had been in doubt from early in the evening with Anfield shrouded in a thick mist but hopes were raised when Atkinson undertook his first inspection at 6.15pm and said that if things had not deteriorated in 30 minutes the game would go ahead. However, on his return at 6.45pm, conditions had worsened and Atkinson, concerned about visibility for both his officials and for the players, decided the situation was unlikely to improve and so declared the match unplayable.

At that time, many fans were still stuck in traffic, backed up because of the fog, and would have struggled to have reached the stadium in time for the 7.45pm kick-off.

Liverpool's manager, Rafael Benitez, was unhappy the match did not go ahead. "I think we could have played but you cannot change the decision. You must respect it but we didn't agree," he said.

Atkinson had many factors to consider, not least the ability of the match officials to be able to do their job properly but also the safety of a full house at Anfield. "When you looked across the pitch from the far [Centenary Stand] side you couldn't see the other touchline. I have to think of my assistant referees and the control of the game," said the Yorkshire referee.

"For us to start the game and then have an assistant not being able to see an offside decision would bring the game into a farce. We went into the stands, looked round from different angles from a spectator's point of view and you couldn't see some parts of the pitch."

Wenger said he would have happily played the match yesterday but there was not enough time to put everything in place. "It is impossible in 24 hours to rearrange a game," he said.

The Anfield stadium manager, Ged Poynton, explained: "You need 10 days' notice minimum to inform Merseyside Police for their requirements."

The Arsenal midfielder Tomas Rosicky could be back in contention to play in this weekend's Premiership game against Blackburn at the Emirates Stadium. The 26-year-old Czech international had been set to feature against Liverpool on Tuesday.

With Freddie Ljungberg out through injury until the turn of the year, Rosicky hopes his return to fitness will prove a timely boost for Wenger. "It has been difficult because I have been injured twice, but now I feel very good," he said.

"It will be a very hard period and so it is good the manager has another option now because suddenly Freddie is injured. Usually where I have played there has been a winter break, so this is new for me, but I am looking forward to it."

Arsenal's captain, Thierry Henry, hopes to be available for the FA Cup tie with Liverpool on 6 January following the problem with his sciatic nerve. The 29-year-old has been named the French player of the year for the fourth time in succession.

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