Wenger: United are 'untouchable'

Arsenal manager concedes that Ferguson’s side are in a class of their own this term
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The Independent Football

Arsène Wenger has conceded for the first time that Arsenal have no hope of winning the Premier League this season, as he declared the current league leaders Manchester United, “untouchable”.

Arsenal sit in fifth place, 12 points behind the reigning champions, a gap that will extend to 15 if United win their game in hand tonight against Fulham, a victory that would also take Sir Alex Ferguson’s side five points clear of second-placed Liverpool. That is a match the Arsenal manager also believes, no doubt to the annoyance of his Fulham counterpart Roy Hodgson, “United will certainly win”.

Should a 15-point gap open up on Arsenal after tonight’s game at Old Trafford, Wenger feels it will be asking too much for his side to catch up and claim their first league title since 2004.

All the top five teams will have 13 games left to play after tonight, with Arsenal still to visit United, giving them a small chance of reducing the points difference. However, Wenger sees United as being in such good form that even an Arsenal win at Old Trafford would not halt Ferguson’s men on their way to a third successive Premier League title.

In any case, Wenger’s side visit Old Trafford on the penultimate weekend of the season, when a win might come too late to make any difference. Wenger cannot see United also losing four other games to give Arsenal a chance of the title.

Wenger said: “We promised ourselves to give everything until the very last day of the season. At the moment Man United look untouchable, they are 12 points ahead, they play Fulham tonight, they will certainly win. United’s results are really consistent. They win 1-0, but you always think during the game they will drop a point tonight, or drop maybe more than two points, but no, they always manage to find, somewhere, the resources to win the game.

“That means if they win their game in hand they are 15 points in front of us. That means they need to lose five games [for us to catch up]. Let’s say they lose one against us, that leaves four. They still need to lose four other games, which they haven’t done yet this season. But we promised ourselves [to keep going]. We are very consistent. We are on a very strong run. We just missed the goals recently we know we are capable of scoring.”

Wenger saw his team cruise into the fifth round of the FA Cup on Monday night, beating Cardiff City in their replay 4-0, and they now have a relatively straightforward path through to the semi-finals. They next play Burnley, at the Emirates, and if they win that they will play either Sheffield United or Hull City in the quarter-finals, again at the Emirates.

However, Wenger has downplayed the importance of the Cup, insisting that it is more important to finish in the top four of the Premier League, thus qualifying for the Champions League preliminary stages.

Wenger, whose last trophy was the FA Cup in 2005, responded, when asked about the Cup being his best chance of silverware: “I believe our basic target is to get in the Champions League. Therefore the championship remains our priority.”

The Gunners’ hopes of overhauling Chelsea or Aston Villa to finish fourth were lifted with the return to first-team action of Eduardo on Monday night. Their Croatia international forward played his first match for Arsenal since breaking his left leg and dislocating his ankle against Birmingham City 51 weeks ago.

Eduardo scored twice, with a header and a penalty, and looked lively throughout his 67 minutes on the pitch, before he was taken off as a precautionary measure, due to a tight hamstring.

Wenger said Eduardo, 26 next week, had shown that, “mentally, he is as strong as a mountain” in coming back from such a serious injury.

The Brazil-born Eduardo wants to carry on where he left off last season, when his goals looked like they might take Arsenal to the league title. Now he has his eyes on European and FA Cup success.

He said: “We have three months until the end of the championship. I am here to help Arsenal to be on top of the Premier League or in the first three. Now we are in the FA Cup, I want to get to the final and in the Champions League we want to go far. I feel I can play again like before.”