“Let's not focus too much on [being in third] place. In my opinion, that is not the most important aspect. For me, what's most important is we know that to get there in the end we need a consistent run. Let's focus on that. We have the consistency so [if we] keep the cohesion now, we will be there in the end.”
That was Arsène Wenger after his Arsenal side smuggled a 3-1 victory over Norwich City on Saturday. The caution is, of course, correct however, having hankered for so long to penetrate the top four, it is hard to resist a regular glance at a much more satisfactory Premier League table.
Daylight could be created on Tuesday night as Wenger’s men return to Emirates Stadium. After that Craven Cottage will be the focus of the Champions League hopefuls. Chelsea go to Fulham on Wednesday, Arsenal make the same journey at the weekend.
All this will play out before Tottenham take to the field against Manchester City at White Hart Lane on Sunday.
But such fixture talk would furrow the brow of the Arsenal manager. Especially as Tuesday’s visitors are David Moyes’ doughty Everton; a side who have suffered fewer Premier League defeats than any team outside Manchester.
Yes, Arsenal have form and momentum but Wenger knows his side have leant heavily on their spirit in their last two games against West Bromwich Albion and Norwich. On both occasions the full-time whistle has been met by relief as much as celebration. Of course, at this stage of the season, whatever wins, works. But you would wager Everton will be an ever greater test of Arsenal’s resolve.
“Spirit is so important now,” admitted the manager. “It will be vital if we are to be successful. We have built a great run that is basically down to our spirit, dynamic, communication and huge desire that this team has [obtained].
"We have gone through difficult times and easier times, and in the difficult times this squad has shown complete mental focus, complete responsible attitude. That is why we bounced back. We know what we want to do so let's keep doing it."
“Momentum means confidence, and confidence, of course, helps your results.”
Wenger will leave it “as late as possible” before deciding if goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski has recovered sufficiently from the rib injury he sustained on Saturday. Wojciech Szczesny is waiting in the wings. Tomas Rosicky returns after his hamstring problem while Per Mertesacker is available after missing Saturday’s win because of the red card he collected at West Brom.
Wenger is aware he has options for this game, most of them positive.
“I have plenty of decisions to make,” he said. “But at the moment, considering every game, you want just the best balanced team.
“It's not linked with individual quality. It is linked with the problems your opponent gives you, the form of the players and the balance of the team. What is most important is that we go into this game with a united and motivated spirit. We have shown that against Norwich. The players that come on, no matter who it is, can make the difference.
Manchester United may have a mighty lead in the Premier League table but their advantage over Arsenal in the form table is only goal difference. Everton are in third.
"What is most important is that we go into this game with a united and motivated spirit. We have shown that against Norwich. The players that come on, no matter who it is, can make the difference"
The Merseysiders have won every Premier League game since the start of March and, had they not allowed Tottenham a last-gasp equaliser at White Hart Lane at fortnight ago, would be fifth, just behind Chelsea on goal difference. Still, they retain a realistic hope of Champions League football.
“[Everton are tough to beat] of course and that's why it is an interesting game,” said Wenger. “So let's make sure it is a very hard game for them and give absolutely everything.”
Aside from Manchester United at Emirates Stadium on April 28, this is arguably Arsenal’s toughest remaining fixture. Five defeats all season tells you everything you need to know about Moyes’ men and, at this time of the season, draws can be deadly - just ask Wenger’s class of 2008.
Arsenal have largely repaired their home record after some early-season damage but it has rarely looked easy.
Those of a jaundiced eye might view Wenger’s opening quote with little regard. Downplaying the team’s recent revival even though the opposition appear all played out.
But ask yourself this, how confident were you in wake of the defeat at Tottenham at the start of March?
That was five Premier League games ago, there are six remaining.
A victory against Everton may well tip the balance in every sense but before, during and after Tuesday’s game vigilance will be required.
Arsenal are third and will be happy enough if they stay there until the end of the season.
But we are not there yet.
Arsenal: Fabianski (doubt - rib), Diaby (knee)
Everton: Neville (knee), HIbbert (calf)
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