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22 July 2024

Wenger backs Arsenal to shine in crucial spell

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger signals during the Barclays Premier League match between West Ham United and Arsenal at Boleyn Ground on December 26, 2013 in London, England. (GETTY)


Arsene Wenger has challenged Arsenal to seize control of the Premier League title race as the leaders kick-off a vital period with a trip to Liverpool on Saturday.

Wenger's side retained pole position after second-placed Manchester City missed a chance to go top in their 1-0 defeat against Chelsea on Monday and the Gunners can cement their spot on top of the table with a victory at Anfield.

Arsenal, who are two points clear of City and third-placed Chelsea, have repeatedly been written off by pundits who don't believe they have the mental strength to end the club's nine-year trophy drought.

But Wenger is confident his players are ready to finally put some silverware in the Emirates Stadium trophy cabinet and sees their next two fixtures as the perfect opportunity to send a message to their title rivals.

Arsenal, who host Manchester United next weekend, have already beaten Liverpool in the league this season and head to Merseyside looking for a fourth win in their last five visits to Anfield.

"This is a massive month for us," said Wenger, who hopes England midfielder Jack Wilshere can return from an ankle injury.

"When you are in a good position to fight for something, the closer you get to the end of the season, every game becomes vital and every point is important.

"We have fought very hard up until now to be in this position, so let's enjoy it and do our best.

"I told you that one month ago there is no invincible team because there are so many quality sides in the Premier League.

"It is just how close you are to your best every time which decides the game."

Liverpool's potent attack will pose a significant test to Arsenal's title credentials however.

Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge have 37 league goals between them in 35 appearances.

Uruguay forward Suarez has bagged 23 league goals this campaign and although none have come in matches against Arsenal, Chelsea or Manchester City, manager Brendan Rodgers expects his star to shine on Saturday.

"I think he has made an impact; he may just not have scored but he certainly scored in those games last season," Rodgers said.

"He makes a great contribution to the team but the onus is not always on Luis to score the goals, it is the team.

"As long as he does his best and works hard I'll have no complaints with that."

Meanwhile, Manchester City defender Pablo Zabaleta is confident his side will get back on track at Norwich City as they look to erase the bitter taste of that loss to Chelsea.

"We can learn from mistakes and we see how difficult the Premier League is at the moment. Every game is very difficult," said Zabaleta, whose team routed Norwich 7-0 in November.

"We need to keep calm. I think the manager is clever enough to work during the week and show to us on video what we did wrong and try to do well in the next game."

Chelsea defender Gary Cahill has warned his team-mates not to squander the momentum from their win at City when the Blues host Newcastle United this weekend.

Shutting out City, who have scored 115 goals this season and were unbeaten at home in the league, was a massive boost to Chelsea's title challenge, but Cahill isn't getting carried away.

"We are coming off a positive win away from home so we can't afford to throw that away at the weekend against a tough team," Cahill said.

"We are at home, we should be buzzing with confidence and ready to go again."

Swansea City begin life after Michael Laudrup with a south Wales showdown against bitter rivals Cardiff City at the Liberty Stadium.

Laudrup was sacked by Swansea in midweek after just 18 months in charge and Garry Monk will take over on a temporary basis as the Swans look to avenge their 1-0 defeat at Cardiff earlier this season.

On Sunday, Manchester United face Fulham, while Tottenham Hotspur and Everton, both in the race for Champions League berths, meet at White Hart Lane.

Fixtures (1500GMT unless stated): Saturday Aston Villa v West Ham, Chelsea v Newcastle, Crystal Palace v West Brom, Liverpool v Arsenal (1245GMT), Norwich v Manchester City, Southampton v Stoke, Sunderland v Hull, Swansea v Cardiff (1730GMT)

Sunday Manchester United v Fulham (1600GMT), Tottenham v Everton (1330GMT)