Wenger says daunting run of fixtures can set Gunners' title bid alight
ARSENE WENGER believes Arsenal will be well placed in the title race at the end of a daunting run of fixtures which starts with the game against Aston Villa tonight.
In the next 15 days Arsenal face, in order, Villa, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool. And while the nature of the Premier League this season suggests that jumping to conclusions based on a small number of fixtures is risky, the Arsenal manager knows that this will undoubtedly be a decisive period for his side.
"We are in a strong position having lost at Manchester United, Manchester City and at home to Chelsea, so you can't say it's make or break," Wenger said. "If we win these games we're in a strong position, that's for sure. It's a great opportunity, and I'm very confident."
It is tempting to look ahead, but tonight's game at Villa Park represents an opportunity to set the tone. Although Villa are suffering from a number of injuries, legacies of their successful run in both domestic cup competitions, they will hardly be pushovers, as Wenger is quick to accept.
"You do not expect an easy ride against Villa. They are well organised, they are strong in challenges, quick in counter-attack and very efficient up front," said Wenger, who added that he believed Villa were genuine contenders to break into the top four.
Villa boss Martin O'Neill reckons that, while the talents of Wenger's current crop of players are undisputed, the Arsenal manager has failed to recreate the success of 2003-04 when his team went 49 games undefeated.
"That team had a different make-up to the side they have now," O'Neill said. "The players that they had were tall, athletic and pretty physical. Arsenal could have gone to any ground at any time in that era and performed because they wouldn't have been put out physically by any opponent.
"This current team have less of a physicality about them. Who's to say that they're not actually a better footballing side? But it takes a lot of things to win a championship. Arsenal, the year they won the championship with that very fine side, possessed everything; this team, until they win the league, still have to prove that."
Villa full-back Stephen Warnock, midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker and striker John Carew are all missing through injury and that is a growing headache O'Neill could do without.
"A few weeks ago someone said we had got through a couple of months without having any injuries and that's usually the death knell," said O'Neill. (© Daily Telegraph, London)