By Richard Clarke
Arsène Wenger has an air of quiet satisfaction at the moment ¬ and rightly so. His Arsenal side are confident, climbing the table and have a captain whose scoring record is the envy of the football world. Eleven wins in their last 13 games, 12 successive appearances in the Champions League Knockout Rounds, five straight Premier League victories, 13 goals from 12 games in the same competition for Robin van Persie.
Pick a stat, any one you want, they all point in the same direction. The issue now is one of maintenance not change. You would think that was a lesser concern but, speaking ahead of the visit of Fulham on Saturday, Wenger was adamant his side's momentum must receive every bit of the care which has been bestowed on their recovery. "Consistency is the biggest challenge now," he said. "That is the most important thing if you want to do well in the League.
"Having secured qualification in the Champions League we can focus more [on the other competitions]. That's what we want to demonstrate now. We need to show that we can go from one competition to the other and keep the same focus.
"I believe what turned the season around is the excellent attitude and mentality of the players. The players who came in have all shown excellent desire to do well and the right focus. That was the real turning point. "I was always optimistic because every day the players wanted to improve. When you have that in the dressing room you have a chance.
"We have the mental level to keep things going and it is up to us to build up the confidence. Of course, that is high already now but it is up to us to show the mental levels to fight in every single game to win it. This is when the hunger and the desire to be at the top comes in.
"We are not at the stage already where we can be overconfident. We are just recovering slowly and I believe there's an urgency in our mind and a feeling in every game ‘come on let's go higher up'." The Fulham game is sandwiched in the middle of three home fixtures in three different competitions over the course of six days. Borussia Dortmund were beaten on Wednesday in the Champions League and a star-laden Manchester City arrive on Tuesday for a mouthwatering Carling Cup Quarter-Final, this game - an evening kick-off against a side struggling just above the drop zone - must not be overlooked.
Fulham may never have won at Arsenal in any competition, but Wenger remains respectful both of their ability and their manager, a man with whom he enjoyed a joust or two during a previous spell at Tottenham.
"There is a difference between the points Fulham have and the quality of their play," admitted Wenger. "You know they can give everybody a game in the Premier League - especially against the top teams. Anybody who plays them knows they can drop points against them. We know that and, of course, we will be on our toes and prepare well. "Going forward they have Dempsey, Dembele, Zamora and Johnson. So they are a side who can be very creative. It looks as though they had some problems to start with but they are now getting on a run and they can make life difficult for everybody. They are creative, well-organised and so slowly Martin Jol is getting to where he gets all his teams. "He has done an extremely good job in England in the past. He has done a good job in Germany too. He is recognised for his work at Ajax and, in Holland, that is always a sign. For me Fulham have a good coach." The West London side are only two places and two points above the dropzone, Arsenal are three places and three points below a Champions League place. You suspect both sides will rise above their respective positions soon.
Arsenal's resurgence is such that Wenger is now batting questions of a title tilt. "At the moment we have to get closer to say that," replied the Frenchman. "We are 12 points adrift. "It is our desire to be in it but we are too far apart at the moment. We have to get closer to talk about it in a realistic way." It will take a bit more consistency to put that on Arsène's agenda. Referee: M Dean Team news: Arsenal - Wilshere (ankle), Jenkinson (back), Sagna (ankle), Gibbs (stomach), Rosicky (thigh)Fulham - Duff (calf), Kelly (thigh), Sidwell (doubt - hernia), Davies (knee) * Robin van Persie has scored or assisted in 38 of Arsenal's 58 goals in the Premier League in 2011.* Fulham have conceded six goals away from home in the Premier League. Arsenal have conceded three times that many.* Fulham's overall record at Arsenal P25 W0 D3 L22.
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