By Richard Clarke
Arsène Wenger believes Arsenal must continue to play ‘catch-up’ until the end of the season.
The Frenchman takes his side to Newcastle on Saturday in fourth spot. It is a rare luxury.
Only once since mid-December, have they gone into a weekend fixture in the Champions League places.
Their lead is merely goal difference but momentum, form and opportunity are with them. On Sunday Aston Villa visit a Liverpool side buoyant after the historic humbling of Manchester United last week. After the international break, they go to Old Trafford.
Martin O’Neill’s side are bang out of form with a record of two draws and five defeats in their last seven games. That is why this is the perfect time for Arsenal to put clear blue sky between themselves and the Midlanders.
But, to do that, Wenger argues there must be no freewheeling. It is time to push the pedal to the metal as they have done to such great effect in past few weeks.
“I’m confident of course that we can finish fourth,” said Wenger. “We all know what has changed in that last two weeks.
“I always said it was down to our performances and now mathematically it is down to that quality. We have a big game tomorrow, we go to Newcastle who are fighting to stay in the Premier League and you know that you only get the points if you perform.
“Our only advantage is that we have had to prepare ourselves mentally to give absolutely everything in every game recently. If you look at our programme we only ever get away with it if we can achieve that.”
Sadly Theo Walcott saw his knee lock-up as he walked back from Friday’s training session. At the press conference an hour or so later, Wenger was unsure of the extent of the problem but if, as expected, it is a cartilage issue then the England international could be out until May.
Speaking to TV Online on Thursday, the manager suggested Eduardo would miss the trip to St James’ Park due to his on-going groin injury. But at the press conference the manager said he would be in the squad. Cesc Fabregas (knee) may be missing his last game before a return but Emmanuel Adebayor (hamstring) and Tomas Rosicky (hamstring tendon) are not as close.
While Arsenal are unbeaten in their last 20 domestic games, Newcastle have won just once in 2009 and are only out of the relegation zone on goal difference. Despite that – and their desperation on Saturday – Wenger feels they will not go down.
“The interesting thing about the game tomorrow is that both teams are interested in three points and not one,” said the 59-year-old. “I believe Newcastle have the quality to stay up. They have stabilised. They had some bad patches during the season but I still think in the last three or four months they have stabilised their results.”
That is certainly true of Arsenal too. They have conceded just three Premier League goals in 2009 and, after going four games without a goal, have now hit seven in their last two matches.
It is just a shame that they took so long to get it together because another eight points would have put them in the thick of the title race and, according to Wenger, that is still alive.
“I think it is interesting,” he said. “I watched a big part of the Manchester United-Liverpool game. For me Man United were the dominating team but I could see they were not sharp on the day physically and Liverpool took advantage. They are very good at doing that.
“Now can you ask if Man United are going to be a little bit jaded physically for a longer period or was it just on the day? If it is for a longer period then the title can still be open. If it was just on the day where they were a little bit tired, which I can understand, they will still win the title easily.
“But then nobody speaks about Chelsea and I wouldn’t rule them out personally because they have a squad with experience and they have the same number of points as Liverpool.
“Of course I would like to change the order of the top four to get in front of one or two teams. But it is not as much done as people think it is.
“Man United have a huge advantage because they have four points ahead and a game in hand. But it is still open because they all still have to play us.
“So for those reasons I feel it will be interesting.”Copyright 2013 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 17 Mar 2009