Arsene Wenger insists he has not given up on Arsenal’s Premier League title challenge but admits there are lessons to be learnt from Leicester’s dominance at the top of the table.
Wenger’s third-placed side, who lie 11 points adrift of the leaders, head to West Ham on Saturday where they will seek the third successive victory they need to keep their slender hopes of becoming champions alive.
Consecutive wins against Everton and Watford have raised hopes they could yet end a frustrating season on a high but Wenger is realistic enough to know Arsenal’s main priority is to ensure they do not get dragged back towards those clubs – including West Ham – currently on the fringe of the top four.
And if, as expected, Wenger is forced to contemplate another failed bid to deliver the title to the Emirates Stadium for the first time since 2004, the manager will point to Leicester’s recruitment strategy as the key to the leaders’ unexpected success.
“What we learn from Leicester City is what I knew for a long time, which is that it’s not just only down to the amount of money you spend,” Wenger said.
“It’s down to the quality of players you bring in and sometimes the opportunities are not always necessarily linked with the amount of money.
“If you look well, they finished very strongly last season and on top of that they brought some players in who have given them something more, like N’Golo Kante. He had a huge impact.”
With games running out, Wenger acknowledges Arsenal need to win virtually all their remaining matches to have any chance of a stunning title triumph.
– Raised eyebrows –
“We know that we need nearly the perfect run and we know as well that we don’t look only in front of us, we look behind us as well,” he added.
“We are chased by a group of teams who can make it very difficult for us so we have just to focus on our performance and hope we finish in a very strong way.
“As long as it’s mathematically possible, there’s a strong possibility we can catch Leicester.
“You look at the difficulty of the Premier League and they have been very consistent but every game is very, very tight. That can go the other way.”
Aaron Ramsey could return to the squad but Wenger is unlikely to change the starting line-up that has delivered successive wins.
West Ham won at Arsenal on the opening day of the season, a result that raised eyebrows at the time.
The Hammers’ form since then, however, has demonstrated that performance was no one off and while last weekend’s home draw with Crystal Palace dented their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League, boss Slaven Bilic and his players have not given up on reaching the top four.
“We are both fighting for a place in Europe and from their point of view, they’re trying to be champions,” Bilic said.
“They admitted that they must win all their remaining games, so it’s a big game with a lot at stake.”
The game marks the start of a defining eight days in West Ham’s season with the FA Cup quarter-final replay with Manchester United on April 13 followed by a trip to Leicester next Sunday.
“We play Arsenal, then have a cup replay against Manchester United, then go to Leicester,” Bilic said.
“But we are approaching the Arsenal game and then we have three days to recover and think about Manchester United. We are going to put the best team out that we can on Saturday.”
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