By Chris Harris
If Arsène Wenger has got his calculations right, Arsenal will arrive at the Riverside on Saturday with a better chance of taking the points than they did a year ago.
Last December, the Frenchman's team concluded an arduous run of four away games in 12 days on Teesside and duly lost 2-1. Arsenal's preparations for this weekend's corresponding fixture have also been hampered thanks to a midweek trip to Portugal and a lunchtime kick-off at Middlesbrough. That's why Wenger has taken the necessary precautions to keep his team's title challenge on track.
"It is a difficult schedule but that is why I made the decision to get everybody in the best possible shape for the game on Saturday," explained Wenger, who left a number of first-team regulars back in London.
"We had to prioritise and we were in the situation where we could prioritise one of the games. That shows that we do not think the Premier League is over and we think, more than ever, that we can come back in the Premier League. That is why I made that choice."
The decision to bring forward Saturday's kick-off time for television purposes doesn't help Arsenal at all. However, Wenger has no intention of challenging such decisions - so long as all teams are treated equally.
"No, I don't have any control [over the scheduling of games]," said the Frenchman. "I would not like control because why should I have that privilege but not Man United or Chelsea or Liverpool or Aston Villa or I don't know who?
"We just hope that it is fair. The coincidence this year is that it was a bit harder for us than for everybody else."Copyright 2015 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 12 Dec 2008