|Arsenal were outclassed by champions United last week and Wenger, centre, knows that a loss against Chelsea will put the Gunners out of the title race [AFP]|
It’s do-or-die for Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger as he prepares his team for what is perhaps their most important match this season.
The Gunners visit English Premier League leaders Chelsea this weekend knowing a win for the north London club would keep their title hopes alive.
A loss however, would all but end their silverware dreams.
Arsenal’s players appeared to peaking at the right time when they powered to the top of the table in January, but a miserable 11-day spell in which they lost in the FA Cup at Stoke City, drew 0-0 at Aston Villa and were then outclassed by a crushing Manchester United in a 3-1 home defeat has been a devastating blow for Wenger’s squad.
The Gunners have won plaudits for some of their football this season and have already scored 60 league goals but against United and Chelsea they have been second best and some critics say they are ill-equipped to win the club’s first silverware for five years.
Sunday’s mouth-watering clash at Chelsea could be the nail in the coffin for Wenger’s season goal.
Wenger normally shields his players from criticism but even he looked at a loss to explain Sunday’s setback at home to United – questioning his players mental strength.
“We were naive,” Wenger said.
“We never had any cohesion, offensively or defensively. We were completely not at our level.
“Why? I believe there are some mental reasons in there.”
Wenger was inactive in the transfer market and fans will again be questioning the manager’s actions, especially with main striker Robin van Persie out for the season and Eduardo’s fitness unreliable.
Arsenal lack the strength and depth of Chelsea’s squad, including serial winners like Chelsea’s Frank Lampard, John Terry and Didier Drogba or the likes of Paul Scholes, Rio Ferdinand, Wayne Rooney and Ryan Giggs at United.
Despite being held to a mid-week 1-1 draw against Hull, Chelsea are still two points ahead of United, however, and six clear of third-placed Arsenal and manager Carlo Ancelotti will know that victory at Stamford Bridge will virtually knock Arsenal out of the equation.
Chelsea scraped a win at Burnley last week and were disappointing at Hull in midweek, where the furore surrounding captain John Terry again overshadowed the match, but Ancelotti knows his side remain in pole position and clearly regards United as their serious rivals for the championship.
“I think we are in a good position now, we are in the top, we know very well Manchester is a fantastic opponent, it will be a long race until the end of the season,” he said.
“We need all the players in good condition and involved until the end of the season. Now every game is very important and every game can decide the future of the season.”
|Results & fixtures|
Saturday February 6
Bolton v Fulham
Sunday February 7
Birmingham v Wolves
Under Ferguson United have always had a habit of hitting top form at the perfect stage of the season and their League Cup semi-final defeat of Manchester City followed by a top drawer display at Arsenal looks ominous.
United host struggling Portsmouth on Saturday knowing victory will put them top before Chelsea face Arsenal.
“We just want to keep winning, to put Chelsea under pressure,” United’s South Korean midfielder Park ji-Sung, who scored against Arsenal, told the club’s website.
“There’s still a long time to go in the league, three months, so we just have to concentrate on our own performances.
“We can deal with the pressure. We’ll see whether they can.”
The battle for fourth spot and European qualification continues with Tottenham Hotspur, who are still clinging on to it despite throwing away points with abandon, at home to one of their main rivals Aston Villa.
Manchester City, who are just a point behind Spurs with two games in hand, travel to Hull City while fifth-placed Liverpool aim to continue an encouraging league run in the Merseyside derby against rapidly improving Everton.