18 Mar ‘Arsenal can win the title’
Arsene Wenger has conceded Arsenal’s current form means they are looking over their shoulder in the Barclays Premier League – even if he insists his side can still win the title.
The Gunners have crashed out of the FA Cup and Champions League in the last week and are on a run of one win in eight games across all competitions.
They travel to Goodison Park to face Everton on Saturday lunchtime and, if results go against them this weekend, Wenger’s side could be 14 points adrift of Barclays Premier League leaders Leicester.
The worst-case scenario for Wenger would be wins for both Manchester City and West Ham – which could see Arsenal drop out of the top four altogether.
The Frenchman reaches 20 years in charge this September and has never finished outside the top four – with some suggesting the financial benefits of qualifying for the Champions League has protected him against losing his job during a barren nine-year spell without silverware.
But now Wenger, whose contract expires at the end of next season, admits it is a real possibility and will be keeping a wary eye on the chasing pack.
“Yes of course. It’s very tight,” he replied when asked if he needs to be looking over his shoulder at the likes of City, West Ham and Manchester United.
“But I believe the Premier League is far from over. 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.
“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.
“We are in a position where we hope for the best. I agree that a negative result (at Everton) 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.”
Arsenal failed in their bid to win three successive FA Cups when they were knocked out by Watford in their quarter-final meeting last Sunday.
That was followed up by a sixth-straight Champions League elimination at the round of 16 stage as they lost 5-1 on aggregate to Barcelona.
And Wenger believes the strength throughout the Premier League is continuing to have an affect on how English teams deal with continental competitions – with Manchester City the only representatives in the quarter-final stages of the Champions League and Liverpool the sole remaining club in the Europa League.
When asked about the lack of Premier League clubs in Friday’s draws, Wenger said: “It’s not good enough.
“But it’s very difficult to give you a rational explanation. The Premier League is very demanding. Overall, the Premier League will be even stronger next season, that’s for sure, again.
“Maybe the Premier League has become the Champions League for the English teams. That’s what is happening. Every game is so difficult in the Premier League that we maybe suffer a bit in Europe. Some teams who play in the Europa League prioritise the Premier League.”
One side who are still in with a shout of winning the Champions League is Paris Saint Germain, who beat Chelsea home and away in their round of 16 tie and face City in the quarter-finals.
The all-conquering Parisians have already sealed their fourth consecutive Ligue 1 title – completing the job with an emphatic 9-0 win over Troyes at the weekend.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored a nine-minute hat-trick in that game and has this week been linked with a summer move to Arsenal.
But, despite professing the 34-year-old continues to excel, Wenger dampened reports he will launch a bid for the Sweden international.
“Look, at the moment, no. We are not on that case,” he said when asked about the apparent interest in Ibrahimovic.
“We have other worries at the moment. It’s short-term. We are not on Zlatan’s case. Even at 34, he’s had a great season at PSG.
“At the moment you can understand my priority ahead of Everton is not the transfer market on signings next season. I’m just surprised by the name you’ve thrown at me. We’re not thinking of signing anybody at the moment.”