Wenger expects defining match
Arsene Wenger believes Monday night's Premier League clash with Chelsea will play a critical role in defining Arsenal's season.
The Gunners have already endured defeats at Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford this term and Wenger insists their response to those setbacks will be key to their title aspirations. They enter the showdown at Emirates Stadium on the receiving end of five successive defeats in the fixture, leaking 13 goals in the process. Wenger knows a precious victory over a title rival would give Arsenal's Christmas schedule the best possible start.
"Of course this is a must-win game," the Frenchman said. "We have mixed feelings because we came out of both games against Chelsea and Man United this season thinking we could have won and that there wasn't a difference between the teams. We have a good opportunity to show that in the coming months and that our improvement is bigger than any other team because we are a very young side.
"It's about how well we respond to what happened to us at Chelsea and Man United that will be the decider for our season. We have played Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool away so our home form in these kind of games will be decisive. We are confident over taking Chelsea on at home. We face a big challenge. What we want is to produce an intelligent game full of dynamism. That is the only way we can win these big games."
Chelsea have dropped to fourth in the Premier League table following a run of five games without a win, offering Arsenal a glimmer of hope they can topple the champions. Wenger recognises that their self-belief has weakened but believes their revival could begin at any moment.
"Chelsea have gone through a period where results are a bit less good but that can happen to anyone in this league," he said. "We have seen recently that any team, when you think they are on the brink of breaking through, can have a hiccup. Maybe it's just the quality of the league. You never know whether it's the best time to play Chelsea. Every game is specific and a new start.
"They have a little bit less confidence than they had in October but we know that winning will be down to our performance. We know that on Monday we will play against a top team and we do not expect any weakness on their side. We want to put a top-level performance in at the Emirates and show we are masters at home."
Fabregas and Van Persie available
Arsenal enter the Christmas period second in the table and even Wenger wonders at their ongoing challenge for the title. "I'm surprised that we lost five games - three of them at home against teams who are not normally fighting for the championship - but we're still near the top," he said. "The good news is that we are still in a good position and have not paid a high price for that. Of course our home form in the second part of the season will be the decider."
Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie are available to make their first start together since August, while goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski is also available. Arsenal travel to Wigan Athletic next Wednesday and visit Birmingham City on New Year's Day before hosting Manchester City four days later.