By Richard Clarke
At the end of Arsène Wenger’s press conference on Friday, the Arsenal manager was asked outright if he was ‘in denial’ of the difficulties his side were facing right now.
This was his response.
“Listen,” he said. “Last year Man United won the title with 87 points, we got 83. That’s four points in 38 games. After what we have gone through from March to May, I don't think we can say there is a massive difference.
“At the end of last season, everyone was critical but we were unlucky to be knocked out of the Champions League and we were unlucky in the Premier League. It was a good season, if not a satisfying season, because we want to win the title.
“But I didn't come to the conclusion that there was a world of difference between Man United and Arsenal.”
His team need to demonstrate exactly that at Emirates Stadium on Saturday.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s side are only one place and point ahead of Arsenal in the Premier League but the perception of the two teams contrasts wildly right now.
While the Manchester United machine has been consistent and focused, Arsenal’s engine has spluttered as much as it has purred.
This has come to a head for Wenger’s men in the past 10 days with an acutely disappointing draw with Tottenham, a painful defeat at Stoke and miserly point with Fenerbahce.
That is why Saturday’s game is perhaps a pivot in Arsenal’s season.
A win could leave them three points off top spot, a defeat would probably see them nine points adrift.
“The morale is of course down when we don't win,” said Wenger.
“One week ago on Wednesday night we played very well against Tottenham and we didn't win. But it doesn't take away the fact that we played in a very convincing way. Afterwards at Stoke we had a lot of possession but we were not really sharp and I believe it was a hangover [from the Spurs game].
“Against Fenerbahce we dominated and had 70 per cent of possession but we didn't score. If we had scored and forced them to come out we could have scored plenty of goals.
“That’s why we have to keep winning, learn from what has happened to us and continue to believe in our strengths.
“But now we want to focus on Man United because it is a fantastic opportunity to show how strong we are when everyone is doubting us.”
Speaking of doubts, Manuel Almunia (sickness) Bacary Sagna (ankle), Theo Walcott (shoulder), Mikael Silvestre (broken nose) and William Gallas (hamstring) all fall in that category for this game.
Emmanuel Adebayor (ankle), Emmanuel Eboue (knee), Robin van Persie (suspended), Tomas Rosicky (hamstring) and Eduardo (broken leg) are definitely out.
Because of all that, it is impossible to predict Wenger’s side on Saturday. Because of their relative inconsistency this season, it is also impossible to predict the performance the Arsenal XI will put in.
However, a victory any which way would be a huge boost, as much to the media and the fans than the Club itself.
“We respect [people’s views] and we respect the press as well,“ he said. “They have opinions. But to achieve things you need to believe in your strengths and these people believe we are weak. That doesn't help us.
“The level of expectation is so high and because of that the pressure is very high.
“So we have to rise above that and be guided more by what we want to achieve and how we want to play football rather than by people who want immediate perfection.”
That however is not necessary on Saturday. Three entirely imperfect points will do just fine.Copyright 2016 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