By Chris Harris
Arsène Wenger admits that Arsenal's title challenge seemed "ludicrous" just seven weeks ago - but now the Frenchman believes his team have a serious chance of winning the Premier League.
A stirring comeback at Emirates Stadium on Wednesday night saw Arsenal turn a two-goal deficit into a 4-2 victory over Bolton and leapfrog Chelsea at the top of the table by the narrowest of margins - goals scored.
Even so, it's a scenario which seemed highly unlikely when Wenger's team lost 3-0 at home to their London rivals on November 29, a result which left them 11 points adrift of Chelsea, albeit with a game in hand. The Arsenal manager was derided in some quarters when he predicted that Arsenal would close the gap but he has been proved right.
Of course, it's one thing to reach the summit and quite another to stay there. But Wenger believes that his players have the ability and the mental fortitude to bring the title back to North London.
"I am very proud of what the players have achieved because at the time [after the Chelsea game] it looked a little bit ludicrous to say we would come back," he said. "Despite that, the players continued to fight with belief.
"It shows first of all that it [the title race] can change quickly and if you keep belief, no matter what people say, it can strengthen the belief in the heads of my players and get them stronger.
"We believe we have a real chance and we will have a real go. I am convinced this team will have a real go. It is very important we keep a good mixture between humility, feet on the ground and of course ambition and desire to win it."
Arsenal have won seven of their last nine Premier League games but they are now on the cusp of what will be a defining period for their title hopes. The FA Cup trip to Stoke on Sunday is followed by a quartet of marquee games: Aston Villa away, Manchester United at home, Chelsea away and Liverpool at home.
Wenger knows that Arsenal must keep in touch over the next few weeks to keep their challenge alive. If they emerge from that run with top spot intact, could the pre-season outsiders be title favourites?
"It depends whether you are top of the League on goal difference or if you are 12 points ahead of the second team," remarked Wenger.
"Of course we are in a fight where we are at the top of the League at the moment. We have a good number of points. We have to fight to win games like the Bolton game but the real difference is made with the teams you fight against [for the title].
"Those games have mathematically a much bigger impact on the table than this game."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