Wenger knows Gunners are off the pace

 

Arsene Wenger is aware Arsenal have a lot of ground to make up before they can be considered as Barclays Premier League title contenders.

Yossi Benayoun's late goal enabled Arsenal to beat Aston Villa 2-1 last night, bouncing back from their 1-0 reversal against leaders Manchester City at the weekend.

But manager Wenger's team are still 12 points adrift of Roberto Mancini's City side heading into Christmas, and the Frenchman concedes challenging for a Champions League spot is more realistic than aiming for top spot at present.

Wenger said: "We are out of the title race as things stand because we are very far away from Manchester City.

"It was important to get back on track at Villa, a place which is always difficult to go to, but it is too early to say we are back in the title race.

"But then we've just had two difficult away games in succession while City have had two home matches they've won."

Wenger added: "If we can get back to within six points of City, then you can start to speak about being title contenders.

"As things stand, we are still in a good race for the top four."

Wenger admitted Villa were unfortunate to suffer their second home defeat in four days but again praised the character of his players.

He said: "A draw would maybe have been fair but we kept going and took our chance when we had an opportunity.

"Villa showed outstanding commitment and quality and they are a good side when they play with that sort of attitude.

"When they are like that, they can beat anyone and we had to be resilient to win the game.

"Our formidable spirit got us through."

Arsenal were due to tackle Wolves on Boxing Day but that home game was today put back by 24 hours, owing to the threat of industrial action by London Underground drivers, and the effect on transporting supporters around the capital.

Such a delay is unlikely to stop Arsenal striker Robin van Persie in his tracks.

With his penalty in the win at Villa, Van Persie equalled Thierry Henry's club record of 34 Premier League goals in a calendar year.

And the Dutchman believes there will be many twists and turns before the outcome of the title is resolved.

Van Persie said: "It is still early. We've only played 17 games, we're not even halfway so anything can happen in this league."

Arsenal have lost 8-2 at Manchester United and won 5-3 at Chelsea already this season.

"Our result against Manchester United was a bit of a surprise, our result away at Chelsea was a big surprise, and then Manchester United lost to Manchester City 6-1 so anything is possible," Van Persie said.

"The way we look at it is that we challenge for every single game and we will see what that will bring us."

As for the title, Wenger said: "I don't think Manchester City now, or Manchester United, or whoever, is thinking about that.

"It is still early and you look at it from game to game."

Van Persie was delighted for Benayoun to score the winner with a rare header from his corner with just three minutes remaining.

He joked: "It was really good for Yossi as well because he has been training unbelievably, trust me.

"Everyone was hoping for him to get a chance and he took it. Everyone is so pleased for him."

Van Persie admitted Arsenal came through a searching examination to overcome a Villa side who produced their best home performance of the campaign.

He said: "It was a tough game. You always know that away at Villa it is always tough.

"I think you could see from our goals, it showed that it was a hard game because we scored from a penalty kick and a corner kick, not from open play.

"Villa played well, they have a really good team, so I'm happy that we won the game the way we did."

PA

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