By Chris Harris

Arsène Wenger is well aware that the critics are questioning his team’s top-four credentials. But the Arsenal boss is backing his team to silence their doubters in what could be the most open title race for years.

Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool have occupied the Premier League’s top four positions for five of the last six seasons. Everton gate-crashed their party in 2005 but, although Tottenham went close a year later, the status quo has prevailed ever since.

Things could be different this season. Aston Villa and Everton built up a head of steam last term without staying the course, Tottenham have enjoyed a resurgence under Harry Redknapp and – lest we forget – Manchester City have been throwing cash around like confetti.

Arsenal’s relatively meagre transfer activity makes them easy targets for those predicting an upheaval among the elite but, in truth, the entire Big Four will be looking over their shoulders at the chasing pack.

Wenger is expecting a battle royal for the title – and a frantic race for the Champions League places.

“What is the ‘Big Four’ now? We'll get the answer soon what it will be,” he said ahead of this weekend’s big kick-off.

“You can never say that Man City will not be there in the fight, you cannot say that Aston Villa will not be there, maybe Tottenham can have a good season, Everton always, and there is always a surprise. So we have a top eight or nine. 

“I don't know what people are thinking [about us dropping out of the top four], I live with my own thoughts. What people in England think depends where they come from, who they support. Maybe some of the fans on our side have the fear we will drop out of the top four. But that's guided by fear, not objective assessment of our performances.

“It is certainly the most competitive race for the top four since I’ve been here. But at the start we race for the top spot. After the minimal target is the top four but you don't start the season thinking like that.

“There is no rule that forbids a team from outside the ‘Big Four’ winning the League. Why not? Man City, Aston Villa... Villa at some stage last year were close before they collapsed in the final third of the season.”

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14 Aug 2009