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By Richard Clarke
Arsène Wenger does not like to concentrate on the opposition. His focus is always on his side, his players, his ambitions.
However the Arsenal manager was forced to watch a first-half masterclass by Barcelona on Wednesday night and he'll afford himself the opening 45 minutes of Manchester United v Chelsea on Saturday lunchtime.
But, after that, he will turn off the television in his cosy office deep in the bowels of Emirates Stadium, walk through the adjoining door to the dressing room and concentrate on Arsenal once more.
His players will know the full-time score from Old Trafford when they walk out against Wolves a few hours later but, if they want to take full advantage, their manager knows his must leave that knowledge in their wooden lockers for a couple of hours.
"This weekend is when we can have an impact and reduce the distance with one of the teams in front of us," he said. "Hopefully two.
"But that will only happen if we win our game. That is why we must stay focused. Our main focus must be our games - we don't even have to look anywhere else.
"Yes OK, I will watch the first half of Manchester United and Chelsea on Saturday and the players will know the score. But the team talk will not change after the result.
"No matter what the score, we just have to win our game against Wolves."
Before the Barcelona tie barged into view, April 3 was billed as a massive day. The meeting of the top two was the last variable in the title race. After that it would be a straight five-game dash for all three teams.
Unfortunately Arsenal's draw at Birmingham last Saturday saw them revert into an all too familiar position - playing catch-up.
After Wednesday, Wenger has massive injury issues but Manchester United, too, are without the talismanic Wayne Rooney. And, of course, it is worth remembering that Chelsea were without a Champions League tie this week.
The Old Trafford game could open or virtually close Wenger's title ambitions and the manager knows exactly what he wants.
"The best result for us mathematically is a draw," he said. "If Manchester Untied win they are in a strong position but if we win all our games I still think we will do it."
Six straight victories would take Arsenal to 86 points, the tally that Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti predicted would be enough to lift the title.
Losing Cesc Fabregas (cracked fibula) and William Gallas (calf) for the rest of the Premier League is a potential body blow. If you throw in the long-term absence of Robin van Persie (ankle) then Arsenal are going into their D-Day games without the spine of their first choice XI.
Andrey Arshavin (calf) will also miss the next three or four weeks. But, thankfully, Gael Clichy (back) and Denilson (groin) recovered enough from Wednesday night to retain their places in the squad for Wolves.
Losing three pivotal players in one evening is a footballing calamity. But at Friday's press conference, Wenger was trying to lead by example.
"Personally, I feel physically and mentally ready," he said. "I am very confident.
"We played against a fantastic team on Wednesday night, and I am very proud of the mental strength and resources we have shown. We have gone through so much since the beginning of the season, it is important we focus on tomorrow's game, because that is vital for us.
"As for my team, I am not resting players because they are all in the squad. But I will rotate a little bit because we need some fresh legs."
Wolves arrive at Emirates Stadium unbeaten in four Premier League games and with the relative comfort of five points and five teams between themselves and the drop zone.
A relegation-threatened side at home will be seen as another ‘gimme' and, of course, title-winning teams win these games. However a hard-working, pressure-free, in-form Wolves could present a real threat to Arsenal, especially if Wednesday's weariness starts to tell later on.
"Wolves are on a good run and we are on a good run," said Wenger. "So I believe that this game demands 100 per cent focus. Nobody beats Wolves at the moment just turning up and thinking it will be an easy game. They play well, are on a good run so it will be interesting. It will show how much focus we can bring into a game like that."
Mick McCarthy's outfit are seen as ‘starless' but, in reality, selfless striker Kevin Doyle has emerged from the pack in the last few weeks.
"I like him," admitted Wenger. "He is a typical intelligent striker but he hasn't one single quality which makes you think: 'he's quick, he's tricky.' However everything he does makes sense. Even against France, he gave us a lot to deal with.
"His fighting attitude is good. His pace is not exceptional but strong. His body strength is not exceptional, but strong. He's good everywhere.
"I followed him because when we played against Reading, their manager Steve Coppell, told me afterwards that he's a good player. I think he was right."
Wenger, meanwhile, has been crucially correct about his side twice this season. On November 31 and then February 7 they were written off in the title race but, each time, as predicted, they came back to pressurise the top two.
Overtaking them has been more difficult and, for Wenger, that raft of recent injuries just make matters harder. But his conviction in his side has never wavered.
"I believe we have enough strength and character in the squad," he said. "We have shown that many times this season.
"OK now the target is even higher because we have lost more players.
"I am still confident, but we know now we cannot afford to drop points anymore."
Arsenal start their final sprint to the line on Saturday.
And the gun goes off at 3pm.
Copyright 2023 The Arsenal Football Club Limited. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source.