Arsene Wenger believes Arsenal's 3-1 win over Chelsea can inspire his side to finally mount a sustained challenge for the Premier League title as they prepare to face Wigan Athletic tomorrow. The French manager has kept faith with his young squad through several years of growing pains, and he is confident their reverse of the defending champions at the Emirates Stadium last night will be the result that defines their campaign.
Arsenal have gone five years without a trophy and critics often pointed to their repeated failures against Chelsea and Manchester United as proof that. For all their eye-catching football, they didn't have the attributes needed to compete with their main rivals.
That criticism was answered in resounding fashion as goals from Alex Song, Cesc Fabregas and Theo Walcott proved too much for the lacklustre Blues. It was the kind of dominant display that Arsenal desperately needed after their recent tame defeat at Old Trafford. Now they must keep the momentum going at Wigan - the kind of unglamourous venue where they have often come unstuck.
"It can be a pivotal result," Wenger said. "Beating the big teams at home will have an impact on the league. It was a win we wanted and needed.
"It has a double impact because it keeps us in touch with the leaders and it's psychological as well, because we were questioned about our ability to win big games. Of course we want to be consistent and we have to respond straight away at Wigan."
Even Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas had questioned his team-mates' ability to raise their game on the biggest occasions, and Wenger conceded he was starting to think along the same lines. The 61-year-old knew the key to banishing that concern was finding a way to match Chelsea's physical approach, and he was delighted with his players' refusal to be intimidated by their opponents.
"Fabregas said we were playing scared," Wenger commented. "That is a strong word but there was maybe something in that, but we didn't see that in this game. Two years ago, with the same players, we were maybe battered by Chelsea. Last year we felt we were getting closer. It was a slow learning process that we got out of our system with this result.
"I felt the strength and desire in the team. We kept good discipline and hunger over 90 minutes. We were putting in the challenges. We have improved on that front, that is for sure. We have a more 'man-ish' dimension in our team and we won our duels. We are not bullied anymore, that is for sure. Over the last two years we have matured."
Arsenal are in second place, two points behind United, although Sir Alex Ferguson's men have a game in hand. If the Gunners are to land the league crown for the first time since 2004, Wenger knows they must win at places like Wigan.
"This championship is very difficult to predict, and we have to get this result out of our system and show we can be consistent," he said. "I hope this victory will convince the team they are going the right way and encourage them to improve."
Martinez backs Arsenal to challenge for title
Wigan manager Roberto Martinez is in dire need of a result to lift his side away from the relegation zone, but he knows Arsenal have the quality to win the title.
"We played Arsenal in the League Cup last month and we felt then that the power they have means they are ready to challenge for the title," he said. "Arsenal have a clear identity and a clear idea of how to play the game. That will always make them a top four Premier League club.
"What Arsene has given them is glamour and a way to play that is respected in world football. In my eyes, this season they are ready to challenge for the title. They are a stronger group than last season."