By Richard Clarke
Time is ticking on the Premier League season.
With just seven games to go the amateur experts (which is pretty much all of us) are now regularly poring over the run-in prising out points to add to their team's tally.
Confidence is based on the indefinable and the undecidable. "If" has suddenly become a tradable commodity.
The perception has been that Tottenham hold a slight but significant advantage over Arsenal in the race for third place because, to coin a phrase, "their run-in is easier".
That balance could change this weekend as Arsenal entertain Manchester City in game crucial to the composition of the top four. They kick off at Emirates Stadium shortly after Manchester United complete their fixture against QPR at Old Trafford. By then, Tottenham's Saturday lunchtime trip to Sunderland will be ancient history.
The two combatants at Emirates Stadium know their chief rivals - geographically and mathematically - could well have stolen a significant advantage before kick off and, by the end of the game, at least one will have not closed the gap.
Tottenham made up three points on Arsenal last weekend and, as a result, Wenger's men are third only on goal difference. But, should they still be there on Sunday night, there may be a shift in perception.
Arsenal's run-in road would have seen its biggest potential pot-hole filled in and the defeat at QPR could be confidently categorised as "a blip". Wenger is not one for second-guessing future opponents but he feels his side have the ability to take the tension out of the situation.
"A victory for us on Sunday would show us we can reach us basic target, which is to be qualified for the Champions League next year,” he said.
“I think we play against a good team and we want to win, we want to show that we have the quality we have shown recently.
“We have been consistent in the last two months and, if we maintain that consistency, there will not be many twists and turns.
"You never know how easy a programme is in this Premier League. If you look at the last two months we won at Liverpool and Everton and lost at QPR. That was not really predictable, so it is still difficult to foresee. I am convinced we can finish third, like Tottenham are convinced they can do it. That is normal because we are at the same level of points.”
The wider football media may well cast Arsenal's ambitions as the chief support on Sunday. The main plot line will be Manchester City's title chances.
Roberto Mancini's side have picked up five points in their last four games and, in the process, lost top billing in the Premier League table.
The Italian has said that if Manchester United win on Sunday and his side lose then the eight-point gap will be impossible to claw back. In the past two seasons, Manchester City have been content with containment at Emirates Stadium and departed pleased with a point. Their ambitions will be different this time.
"What is for sure is that a draw is not good enough for them," said Wenger. "It is true that in the last two seasons they came to play for a draw - and they got it - but I believe that this time, both teams are in a situation where they want to win.
"On our side it is a 'want-win' [not must-win]. It is a home game, we feel strong at home and it is a big game and we want to win the big games."
Manchester City's position will be familiar to Arsenal supporters. Seeing their team seemingly in charge and then being superseded by a miserly Manchester United team eking out points their performances do not always merit.
"Basically, for Manchester City, it is away from home where they have lost it a little bit because they have been outstanding at home," said Wenger.
"Manchester United are surprisingly up there in a comfortable position when no-one expected them to be. They didn’t look absolutely irresistible this year and you could see that again on Monday night against Blackburn. But they managed to win the game. I believe if Manchester United [win the title] this year it is really down to experience.
"For example at Blackburn when Ryan Giggs came on in the last 15 minutes you thought they can only win it now because they know how to deal with the 'money time' - the last 15 minutes in football when it is 0-0. They don't make a mistake. They have that security at the back. They have won so many titles because they are not nervous."
However, while Manchester United have Premier League nous, Manchester City have the best talent money can buy and Wenger is not writing them off.
"Let's not be too optimistic [about their form]," he said. "I feel they still play Man United at home so it's far from over, you know. The fight is open. Man United at the moment has a little advantage but we'll see. It's very difficult to predict what will happen."
The only thing you can safely foretell is that an Arsenal victory on Sunday will make third place all the more achievable.
Arsenal: Coquelin (hamstring), Mertesacker (ankle), Frimpong (knee), Wilshere (ankle)
Man City: None
Man City’s last League win at Arsenal came in October 1975.
Man City have not scored more than one goal away from home in the Premier League since November 5.
Arsenal have not scored in five of their last six games against Man City. The other game saw them win 3-0 at the Etihad Stadium.
Arsenal have won eight of their last nine home games.
This is Arsenal's first home fixture on Easter Sunday.
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.