Pre-Match Report

Premier League: Arsenal v Man City - Preview

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By Richard Clarke

"I believe our pride is to fight until the end of the season," said a steadfast Arsène Wenger at the start of his press conference on Friday.

"We have shown a lot of fighting spirit and even though we had two disappointing results I believe it is important that we keep fighting.

"You never know what can happen and, as well, we are under threat from the people chasing from behind. Nothing is secure and so we want to make the maximum points that we can."

After the travails of the past month, you can hardly blame the Arsenal manager for getting back to basics.

Despite nine months of hard effort, Wenger knows his season will be judged on their last three games. The defeats at Barcelona, Tottenham and Wigan dashed Arsenal's twin ambitions. Achieving third place in the Premier League and suffering a Champions League Quarter-Final defeat at the feet of the magical Lionel Messi was more than many might have predicted last August. But having seen the sparkle of distant silverware in recent weeks, the only emotion available is disappointment.

However once that has dissipated, Wenger believes there WILL be a realisation his side have improved.

"I do not think anybody would go against that," he said at Friday's press conference. "We have moved forwards and, with the age of the team, there is still some room for improvement.

"Also you have to remember some players have not played a game. Djourou has not played at all, Gallas has been out for a long time, Fabregas, Denilson, Arshavin too.

"When you go into the final sprint, it is important you have all your players available - when you have seven or eight out, and you play every three days, you cannot rotate the team and it is difficult.

"We always know we can never afford to be far away from winning the title. But if you look at our last two games, you have even more regrets, so let's just finish as strongly as we can."

While Arsenal have their own reasons to improve on this season's showing, the moneyed might of Manchester City must be a motivating factor.

Tottenham, Aston Villa and Everton have all threatened the dominance of the ‘Big Four' over the last decade. But you could argue the Eastlands outfit are now the biggest long-term threat.

Saturday's visitors to Emirates Stadium spent wisely last summer. They invested their millions on players already playing in the Premier League, including Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Toure from Arsenal.

Their ascent has hardly been a smooth ride; manager Mark Hughes was jettisoned en route. But Roberto Mancini, his successor, now presides over a side who seem equipped for the Champions League (and if they are not then they have the finances to address the problem). The main concern is seeing off Tottenham and Aston Villa for this year's fourth and final qualifying spot.

"I don't have favourites for that," admitted Wenger. "But I believe the race is tight. You have Tottenham, Man City, even Aston Villa has a chance, so it will be very close. But let's take care of ourselves on Saturday and not worry too much about who will be favourites for the rest."

Alex Song returned to training on Friday and should be OK after recovering from an inflamed cartilage in his knee. Meanwhile Eduardo is fit after suffering a broken toe. Andrey Arshavin (calf) and Denilson (groin) are still out while Lukasz Fabianski should once again deputise for Manuel Almunia (wrist) in goal.

As for Robin van Persie, the manager said: "He is ready to start but I don't know yet whether I will start him or not."

Manchester City's highly-charged 4-2 win at Eastlands in September lit the sky blue touch paper on their season. Adebayor's goal celebration drew both criticism and headlines, but the win itself drew confidence into the team.

"We have lost twice to them this season," said Wenger. "In the League, it was 1-1 with ten minutes to go and we lost in the end 4-2. Both teams went for it and we lost. After that it was the Carling Cup and we played with a youth team. That was a different game.

"For this one we have not only Adebayor coming back but Patrick Vieira and Kolo Toure who are very big players.

"We will welcome them and we have always the same line of conduct to respect because of what they have done for us. We want our fans to respect that as well and of course encourage our team."

Mancini's men had their own withering last-gasp defeat last weekend - a 1-0 reverse at home to cross-town rivals United. With the battle for fourth place so tight they are being asked for a response aswell.

Incredibly Manchester City have not won at Arsenal since 1975. After their improvement this season it is a record that will surely come increasingly under threat.

An away win on Saturday would threaten Arsenal top-three finish and, with it, leave them open to a Champions League qualifier.

"We don't want that," said Wenger. "We want to go through directly and I am confident that we will do it.

"It is very important we respond in the right way."

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