“Yes, it is the sprint for the line now. We want to continue our run and have the satisfaction of being where we want to be at the end of the season.
“The Bayern and Swansea games are a good inspiration for us to continue our run-in with good form.
“There are nine games to go - five at home and four away. With the form we have shown in those last two games, I think we have a very good chance to finish in the top four.”
Arsenal have responded well to being defeated in a game that, even Arsène Wenger said, they could not afford to lose.
A brace of 2-0 wins in tough places restored pride in the Champions League and hope in the Premier League after that shuddering defeat at White Hart Lane. Meanwhile Tottenham’s losses at Liverpool and at home to Fulham mean that Arsenal will be a point behind if they win their game in hand.
The players have returned from their last international break of the season, the scene is set and a swift six-point shift before the interval has given the Arsenal manager the optimism he displayed the top of this piece.
Of course, Wenger’s men timed their run well last year and, in the 29th round of Premier League matches, passed Tottenham for good. So it is worth noting therefore that Saturday’s game at home to Reading is Arsenal’s 30th of this campaign.
“We have experience from a few years [of comebacks] now,” said Wenger. “But, as well, we have a special desire to do it again, together.
“We do not focus on Tottenham at all. We focus on the way we want to play and on our results. If we are consistent in the last nine games, we will do it.
“Nobody is out of reach apart from Manchester United.”
It was Reading’s defeat at Old Trafford at fortnight ago, coupled with Manchester City’s defeat to Everton, that pretty much secured the title for Sir Alex Ferguson’s side.
It also left the ‘Royals’ seven points adrift of the safety. However Brian McDermott’s side had played with enough pluck to suggest they would push their cause until it was mathematically lost. Therefore the appointment of Nigel Adkins was somewhat of a surprise.
However the former Scunthorpe manager had been an unlucky casualty at Southampton a few months earlier.
It leaves Arsenal having to counteract the groundswell often caused by a new appointment; something that has caught them out in the past.
“Yes it is does have a little bit of an effect,” said Wenger. “There's always more concentration and hope in a team in this situation.
“I think Brian McDermott did an excellent job there, similar to Adkins at Southampton. But Adkins has got a chance again now and we must be on our toes.
“Reading fought hard at Manchester United. They lost 1-0 and were a bit unlucky in some situations. We know what is expected – Reading fight not to go down, we fight to be in the top four, all of the ingredients are there for a very passionate and committed game. In the end what is important is we come out on top of it.
“It’s very difficult to say [how much hope Reading can have of staying up]. This season you could be safe with maybe 35 or 37 [points] and get away with it. But, honestly, we calculate more how much is needed at the other end of the table and the way we can achieve that is just for us to play well.”
The two games between these sides so far this season have provided 19 goals, including hat-tricks for Santi Cazorla and Theo Walcott.
The latter picked up a groin injury on international duty and is due back next week. Jack Wilshere (ankle) may be a little later. However, Abou Diaby’s season ended in the 71st minute at Swansea a fortnight ago when he was replaced by Aaron Ramsey. The Frenchman suffered a cruciate knee ligament injury in training this week and is expected to be sidelined for eight to nine months.
Elsewhere, Kieran Gibbs is doubtful with flu, however Lukas Podolski and Bacary Sagna are fit.
While, as Wenger asserts, this is now dash for the tape, it does not mean a desertion of principle and poise. After all, Usain Bolt’s 100 metres is little more than 9.5 seconds long but the incredible Jamaican still has to consider his focus, the blocks, the gun, the ‘pick-up’, his arms, his stride length, his opponents and myriad of other crucial details before he actually dips for the line.
The point is this – there is still too much time to think definitively and run-ins refuse to run to form.
No-one assumed Arsenal could lose at White Hart Lane and retain a decent chance of getting in top four. A seven-point gap seemed simply too large.
But the tenor has changed dramatically inside 180 minutes.
And if that is any kind of yardstick then there is time for further flips and flops before mid-May.
For example, Wenger’s side appear to have an eminently winnable game on Saturday while, on paper, Andre Villas-Boas’s men have a tougher task at Swansea. But then the swing of results that caused the two teams to switch place after 29 games last year was Arsenal’s narrow 1-0 win at a bang-in-form Everton while Tottenham could only draw at home to a Stoke side who would end up with the fourth-worst away record in the Premier League last term.
“It’s very hard to predict in the run-in,” admitted Wenger.
“But if you ask me ‘are we are under pressure?’ I say yes. However we want to use this pressure in a positive way, that means as a stimulating incitement to play our best football.
“Overall it’s just down to consistency,” he added. “You try to be consistent on your own side, knowing that everyone can drop points everywhere.
“You want to be the team that drops less and, if possible, no points at all until the end of the season.
“That’s the only attitude you can have to be successful.”
Arsenal: Gibbs (doubt - illness), Diaby (knee), Walcott (groin), Wilshere (ankle)
Reading: Kebe (doubt - groin), Federici (ankle). Guthrie (knee), Roberts (hip)
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