18th March 2016: Wenger on title race and team news

Happy Friday. It’s Everton away in the early kick-off tomorrow and nothing bar victory will suffice for Arsenal as we try to keep alive our faint hopes of ending the season as Premier League champions.

Many have already written us off and called a two-horse race between Tottenham and leaders Leicester but that, as things stand at least, is premature. If we win tomorrow we could end the day three points behind second placed Sp*rs and eight behind the Foxes with a game in hand – if Claudio Ranieri’s men slip up at Selhurst Park against Crystal Palace.

So when Arsene Wenger spoke at his pre-match press conference earlier today and suggested there’s still likely to be twists and turns and the title race was far from a foregone conclusion, you could see where he’s coming from.

On the other hand, with Manchester City just a point behind us, West Ham a further two adrift and even Manchester United not yet out of the top-four picture entirely in sixth place, we need to be just as wary of those behind us in the standings, as we hopeful of catching the two teams ahead. Here’s what Arsene said:

I would say we have to go step by step. Let’s get back to winning habits first, that starts tomorrow… if we win tomorrow, we’ll see. That’s our target. But at the moment, the only way to achieve something special is first to be realistic and humble enough to deal first with Everton. Things will change until the end of the season, that’s for sure. We have to take care of our own destiny, and that’s by producing the performances we expect from ourselves. It’s very tight, but I believe the Premier League is far from over. We are in a position where we hope for the best. I agree that a negative result would be very bad for us, but we focus on a positive result. We know now is the time for us to produce the result we want. We also have to look behind us because things can change very quickly. We want to move forward, but I’m conscious that our position is not secure, even where we are.

In terms of team news, the boss revealed only Mathieu Flamini, who went off injured against Barcelona on Wednesday, is unavailable from our last match-day squad and will be replaced by Calum Chambers. As for our long-term casualties, he revealed:

Wilshere is showing good signs now of recovery, Santi is a bit slower. The players who will definitely be back from injury [after the international break] will be Ramsey, Cech and maybe Flamini. But I don’t think Cazorla or Wilshere will be straight after the international break.

So good news on most but a little sketchy on Santi, which is of course concerning and also a little confusing, because when Arsene spoke a week or two about the Spaniard suffering a fresh setback due to an Achilles problem, the player himself took to social media to express his surprise at the stories of a delayed comeback and insisted he was on schedule to return at the start of April. All a bit weird.

Now usually, I’d play Arsenal Manager right about now and have a guess at tomorrow’s starting line-up but today, I’m not really feeling it. I just hope whoever’s selected performs well, we keep 11 players on the pitch for the whole game and emerge victorious to breathe fresh life into a campaign that’s nearing a flat-line.

Back post-match.


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