Arsenal Facing A Make or Break Period to Secure Top Four Finish

Arsène Wenger believes the next eight days will be a defining period in Arsenal's season and could have a decisive impact on whether they finish in the top four.

Not only have Arsenal been boosted by the return of Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott to fitness after their respective ankle and groin injuries, they also know that if they win their next three matches, they will open up a seven-point lead over Tottenham, who are not in action again until their home fixture against Manchester City a week on Sunday.

Whereas Chelsea's FA Cup semi-final against City on Sunday means that neither they nor Tottenham have a league game this weekend, Arsenal play three times in the space of a week, starting with the visit of Norwich City on Saturday afternoon. The game against Chris Hughton's side is the first of three crucial fixtures for Arsenal, who currently trail Chelsea and Tottenham by two points. Victory over Norwich would move them into third place and they would then have the opportunity to increase the pressure by winning at home against Everton on Tuesday and at Fulham next Saturday.

However, with Chelsea going to Fulham on Wednesday night, it is Tottenham who could suffer most, especially as they led Arsenal by seven points after beating them at White Hart Lane at the start of March. The lead has been gradually reduced since then, but although Arsenal can strike a psychological blow by taking maximum points against Norwich, Everton and Fulham, Wenger has stressed that his main concern is ensuring his side maintains the form that has seen them win their past four matches.

"It's a massive week for us," Wenger said. "Because they don't play we have a chance to build an advantage. But since four or five weeks ago we know we have to win our games whether they play or not. We have to focus on our games. It does not matter whether Tottenham play or not. We have to win our games."

While Tottenham are licking their wounds after losing their Europa League quarter-final to Basel on penalties on Thursday, Arsenal are on a high, and Wenger sees the win over Bayern Munich last month as a turning point, even though it was not enough to keep them in the Champions League.

"The Bayern game helped us," Wenger said. "We've suffered a lack of confidence all season because we couldn't win big games, and that was a big game that we won. And we were away from home on top of that. If you look at Bayern it's the only game they've lost in the Champions League this season. That game helped us to gain some confidence.

"What helped us was we had the feeling that we didn't play as badly as people said at Tottenham. It hurt us a lot, but I came out in a positive mood. It was not all negative. I wanted to wait to see if there was anything behind it and the Bayern game came after that, which was a turning point in terms of confidence."

While Wenger has been cheered by the return of Walcott and Wilshere, Arsenal are likely to be without Tomas Rosicky, who scored twice in the 2-1 win at West Bromwich Albion last Saturday, against Norwich after he suffered a hamstring injury.

Powered by article was written by Jacob Steinberg, for The Guardian on Friday 12th April 2013 23.00 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


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