“Exactly, it’s all still to play for. We have to make a realistic analysis. We are in a fantastic situation and it's about how well we do from now until the end of the season.”
That was Arsène Wenger on Tuesday afternoon BEFORE Chelsea’s 1-1 draw at West Bromwich Albion opened up the possibility that his Arsenal side could end a tough week back on top of the Premier League.
The manager was always keen to put a line under the 5-1 defeat at Liverpool on Saturday.
Victory over Manchester United on Wednesday at Emirates Stadium will allow him to erase it from the short-term memory - at least until the Anfield side arrive on Sunday in the FA Cup.
It would also chasten some over-zealous opinions last weekend which suggested the result on Merseyside would begin the gradual evaporation of Arsenal’s title chances.
We have heard something similar after each Premier League defeat but Arsenal’s reaction has been positive each time. After losing to Aston Villa they put together seven straight wins; after the Manchester United loss it was four straight wins; after a difficult trip to Manchester City there were eight wins and two draws in the subsequent 10 games.
"There is no season without any disappointment. Even in what people call the ‘immaculate season’, we went out in the Champions League and we had to respond in the Premier League. That is what it's about"
“Yes, we have always responded very well this season,” agreed Wenger. “That's why we are in this position. You know accidents are part of the season and successful campaigns are decided by the way the team responds to its disappointments.
“That is because there is no season without any disappointment. Even in what people call the ‘immaculate season’, we went out in the Champions League and we had to respond in the Premier League. That is what it's about. I love this group of players and I love the way they want to win. So I'm sure the heart will be there to do well.
“We are inside such an important week that it is vital to look in front of us.”
True enough. After Manchester United on Wednesday and the FA Cup tie with Liverpool on Sunday, there is a Champions League knockout round first leg against Bayern Munich. Sunderland complete a quick quartet at Emirates Stadium the following Sunday.
Only the cup tie could be truly decisive and this Premier League is punishing knee-jerk reaction without mercy it seems. But, in the wake of Saturday, rapid restorative victories are needed and the dangers of a poor first leg in Europe will be glaringly obvious after last year’s exit to the German champions.
On Wednesday, the current Premier League title holders arrive at arguably their lowest ebb in recent history. David Moyes has struggled to get consistency from his squad after succeeding Sir Alex Ferguson last summer. As if to prove the point, rock-bottom Fulham grabbed a last-gasp draw at Old Trafford on Sunday.
At this point last season, Manchester United were 10 points clear and on the way to becoming champions. Right now they are 16 points shy of leaders Chelsea and nine adrift of a Champions League place.
“I still feel they are a good side and we will approach them like that,” said Wenger. “They have had their ups and downs in the season but you look at their teamsheet and they only have good players in there.
“When a person [like Sir Alex Ferguson] has been at a club for such a time, there is always a void created when he goes, but I believe Moyes, if given time, will [fill] that perfectly.
|Arsenal: Flamini (suspension), Ramsey (thigh), Walcott (knee), Diaby (knee), Vermaelen (leg)Man United: Jones (doubt – concussion), Felliani (doubt - groin), Cleverley (doubt – knock), (Nani (hamstring), Evans (calf)|
“You knew that he would need time and patience but he is in a strong club.”
So one team needs patience, the other needs perspective - both, as ever, need victory.
As horrible as it was at Anfield, you feel Arsenal are a very different beast at home. And their last Premier League defeat on their own patch was perhaps the closest in nature to Saturday’s defeat. But the subsequent recovery from a shocker on the opening day actually laid the foundations of the current campaign. And, after the season we have enjoyed, Wenger’s team fully deserve their right of reply to that crushing Anfield defeat.
“We'll respond in a very positive way,” said the Frenchman. “I'm convinced of that. We have always done that since the start of the season.
“If I told you after the Aston Villa game that we would have a week like this in front of us I would have jumped through the roof.
“We have to put that success into perspective now and focus on our next game.”
Referee: Mark Clattenburg
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