By Josh James
"It's not hard for us to focus on our targets, because that's our job." - Arsène Wenger
Arsenal's priorities have shifted.
Last weekend's results mean the Gunners can no longer claim the league title, but there is still a substantial prize to play for over the remaining three games of the season.
That may feel like a consolation prize after a season which promised so much more, but Arsène Wenger is keen to ensure his players' motivation doesn't drop as a consequence.
"We are a responsible team who prepares for the future," he said. "Everybody wants to be in the Champions League. We have to absolutely focus 200 per cent to achieve that. It's far from done.
"When you think that qualification depends on these last three games, it would be really criminal to feel we do not have full focus.
"It is a vital part of the season. We fight very hard in the season to win the championship, but if not, we fight as well to be as high as possible. It's disappointing for us [not to be in the title race], but it's not hard to focus on our targets, because it's our job."
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At least Wenger will have a fully fit squad to call upon for the final push. He confirmed that everybody is available "for the first time this season" but added Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain may need another week or so of training before he is selected.
Despite this wealth of options, expect Arsenal to field a similar line up to that which started the last two games, as the manager looks to extend the seven-match unbeaten run in the league.
"We are not at the period where we rotate," Wenger said. "It's just the most efficient team for the next game who will be selected.
"We want to win the next game and for that we need stability. At the moment I believe the team is collectively playing well, and individually the players are doing well too.
"Overall I thought our team performance was very good in the first half at Sunderland, but we couldn't finish our chances off.
"In the second half we suffered a bit physically, because we played Sunday, Thursday, Sunday. It was very short for recovery but we kept a clean sheet and overall we got a point against a team who is fighting to survive in the Premier League and who has improved a lot recently, I must say."
ONE TO WATCH
There was a big contrast in circumstance between Jack Wilshere's last two appearances for Arsenal.
His late cameo in the goalless draw at the Stadium of Light was his first club outing since coming on as a sub in the FA Cup final rout of Aston Villa - 11 months earlier.
In between those two games the 24-year-old put in countless hours of rehab in the gym, but now he, Arsenal and indeed the national team can begin to reap the fruits of those labours.
"We are happy to have him back because he's a character and he's brave," said the manager. "He has shown that again with what's happened with him. Of course for us it's a bit late, but it's good news for England.
"I hope after all the frustration he has had throughout the season here he will be rewarded and have a great summer with England.
"England has a very strong squad now with the players like Jack coming back, so I hope he will have a positive summer."
Wenger believes that teams fall into one of three categories at this time of year - title hunters and Europe chasers at the top, then those fighting against relegation and the rest.
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For the second weekend in a row, it is clear which group Arsenal's opponents fall into. Like Sunderland last week, Norwich are 18th in the table going into the game - the Black Cats having lifted themselves just above the Premier League survival line at Norwich's expense with that point on Sunday.
"Yes, it will be a similar test to last weekend," Wenger said. "There is a massive fight between Newcastle, Sunderland and Norwich - you know that everybody fights to stay in the Premier League."
There are plenty of examples of teams at the wrong end of the table finding extra resources the closer the threat of relegation looms - Leicester City last season for one - and Wenger is wary that Norwich could be a stronger proposition now they are at the 'all or nothing' stage.
"Sometimes the fear goes when you feel there is nothing to lose anymore," he said. "For a while the players have played with anxiety, and sometimes they release the handbrake when there is nothing to lose anymore and they really go for it.
"The fact they know they could find themselves in the Championship gives them a mixture of a desire to fight but also some anxiety as well."
FROM THE ARCHIVES
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