Arsenal have dropped points in just three games since the New Years’ Day defeat at Southampton. If they had not endured such a poor start to the season, they would be challenging Chelsea for the Premier League title.
Instead, they are now fighting with Manchester City and Manchester United in the top four of the table. They go into their meeting with the latter at Old Trafford on Sunday in high spirits.
They know if they beat United, they will be guaranteed not to be in the Champions League qualifiers at the start of next season, something which they have rarely managed to avoid in recent seasons. They have finished in fourth in six of the previous nine editions of the Premier League.
Arsene Wenger knows that they must avoid another fourth-placed finish so their season does not start unnecessarily early as they look to turn themselves into title contenders.
Wenger was quoted on the Manchester United official website as saying, “Not to have that stress over your head from the first day again is vital. We want to put a gap mathematically between them [United] and us in the top four, and secure the top-three place.”
Arsenal managed to defeat United in their previous meeting, thanks to a Danny Welbeck winner against his former club, which sent the Gunners into the FA Cup semi-finals. Wenger is determined to repeat that trick on Sunday.
He continued, “We want to make a symbolic statement after the FA Cup. To produce that against them would be psychologically important.
“To win at Old Trafford again would convince us that we have strength, and help us be stronger next season. We feel we have made progress. Only one thing shows you have made progress and that’s continuity in your performances. We have good, fantastic and very bad memories [against United] but what we want is to show we are a solid team.”
"We want to bounce back from our defeat against Swansea and put in a good performance. Any positive result - a win or a draw - would be great.”
Arsenal’s form, combined with Wenger’s new pragmatic approach in the second half of the season, gives them a great opportunity to record their first win in the league at Old Trafford since March 2006. If they do, at least third place will be secured.