Mancini expects challenge, Wenger rallies
Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini expects Arsenal to be back on top form for his side's crucial trip to the Emirates Stadium tomorrow. City can ill afford any more slip-ups in the Premier League title race after falling five points behind rivals Manchester United with seven games to play.
Arsenal, who have their own UEFA Champions League ambitions to satisfy, stuttered themselves as they were beaten at relegation-threatened QPR. But after winning their previous seven league games, Mancini sees that result as a mere blip and believes City will need to be at their best to win and keep the pressure on United.
Mancini said: "It was a surprise for me, I didn't think this - Arsenal played the last seven games and they won all that they played. QPR probably did a good game. Sunday will be a difficult game for us, playing against a top squad like Arsenal. But we should play our game, we should play well, not like against Sunderland. If we play better we can do well."
City began March with a two-point lead at the top of the table, but a surprise defeat at Swansea and frustrating draws against Stoke and Sunderland have seen the odds swing in United's favour. But with a Manchester derby at the Etihad Stadium still to come later this month, City only need United to drop points in one game to regain control of their title destiny - providing they win games themselves.
Mancini conceded this week that defeat at Arsenal, coupled with a United victory over QPR, would effectively condemn City to the runners-up spot.
Arsene Wenger meanwhile has challenged Arsenal to end any doubt over what the end-of-season run-in will bring by winning all of their remaining seven matches. The Frenchman expects his side to produce the required performance which saw them win seven on the spin before a lacklustre effort at QPR was punished by a 2-1 defeat last weekend.
"We have been consistent in the last two months and if we maintain that consistency there will not be many twists and turns," the Arsenal manager said. "You never know how easy a programme is in this Premier League because if you look at the last two months we won at Liverpool and Everton, and then lost at QPR. That was not really predictable, so it is still difficult to predict."
Wenger added: "I am convinced we can finish third, like Tottenham are convinced they can do it. That is normal because we are at the same level of points."
Gunners skipper Robin van Persie echoed Wenger's call for the team to concentrate on their own jobs rather than worry about what City may or may not do. "We are well prepared, because you have to know your stuff about the opposition, but in the end it's about your own performance that will hopefully make the difference," Van Persie wrote in his programme notes for tomorrow's match at Emirates Stadium.
"I am confident that we can get a good result - we have to get three points, a draw is not that good for either of us, so it should be a great game."