Arteta: It'll be a fight until the end
Midfielder Mikel Arteta has declared Arsenal can break the Manchester monopoly of the Premier League next season.
Gunners midfielder Arteta, whose stunning goal may have shot down Manchester City's title hopes in Sunday's 1-0 victory at the Emirates Stadium, stopped short of predicting a title challenge in 2012/13, but was confident of improving on third place.
Arsenal can take a huge step towards finishing best of the rest behind Manchester United and City this season if they win at rock-bottom Wolves tomorrow and go five points clear of arch-rivals Tottenham Hotspur. But summer signing Arteta already had one eye on next term, when he believes the squad will be even stronger.
He said: "We've missed big players this season, Abou Diaby, Jack Wilshere. They haven't played at all and are massive players. We know we have really good players and maybe, just maybe, we can do even better than what we have done this year."
For now, Arteta will settle for third place, something that looked unthinkable after Arsenal made their worst start to a season for 58 years. "Third place gives you direct access to the [UEFA] Champions League. It's really important. It's been a big fight, we have come all the way through from the back. We've put in a big effort, we are in a strong position now and we don't want to waste it."
The Gunners have now won seven of their past eight games, but such has been their fragility at the business end of the season in recent years, their sole loss at Queens Park Rangers just over a week ago sparked fears of another collapse.
Arteta said: "We had a setback at QPR and it says a lot for our spirit that we came straight back. Everyone was saying we were in trouble again. Newcastle look really strong, Chelsea keep winning and I'm sure they'll be there until the end. It will be a big fight and I think it will go right until the end.
"There are some big games ahead. Everyone must play each other, we've got Chelsea here, got to go to Stoke so it can change again."
Arteta is weighing in with his share of goals, scoring twice in the past four matches. That has been vital considering captain Robin van Persie has suddenly dried up, failing to net for four successive matches for the first time since 2010. "I'm trying to contribute the best way to the team that I can," Arteta said. "Scoring goals is not one of my most important jobs in the team because we have better players in the team to do that, but it's always nice to help.
"Robin has been creating goals for other players. As long as we keep winning, that's the most important thing. We are also keeping clean sheets as well which is important from now until the end of the season."
Manager Arsene Wenger was full of praise for Arteta's contribution. "One of the qualities he has that is not always appreciated at its right level is the focus," Wenger said. "He has consistent focus from the first to the last minute to win, and that takes advantage of every mistake the opponent can make.
"His goal (against City) typifies that because he wins the ball as well and scores behind that, because he has a good concentration level."
Wenger was similarly effusive about on-loan midfielder Yossi Benayoun, who has proven something of a talisman in his limited appearances recently. The Gunners boss revealed he had yet to make a decision about whether to try to buy the Chelsea schemer. "That will happen at the end of the season. We have to look at the situation in a global way because we have many players out on loan so we need to deal with these situations."
Wenger will be forced into at least one change tomorrow, with defender Laurent Koscielny serving a two-match ban for picking up his tenth booking of the season hours before the amnesty cut-off. Wenger said: "As we understand the situation, with a red card he would have been less suspended than with one yellow. It is not completely logical, but we have to take it on board and he will be suspended for the next two games."