PREVIEW-Soccer-Resilient Arsenal just will not lie down
LONDON, March 4 |
LONDON, March 4 (Reuters) - Arsenal have twice looked dead and buried in the Premier League title race this season yet a healthy home win against Burnley on Saturday (1500GMT) could see them back on top with just nine games remaining.
First place, though, could be short-lived as Manchester United are in action at Wolverhampton Wanderers later in the day (1730). But whatever happens at Molineux, Arsenal's resilience this season has been admirable.
A crushing 3-0 home defeat by Chelsea at the end of November left them 11 points off the pace, yet they fought back to top the table seven weeks later.
Defeats by Manchester United and Chelsea again had them nine points back at the start of February and the championship was again seemingly a two-horse race.
Yet again though they bounced back and, helped by surprise defeats for their rivals, they are again pushing for their first title since 2004.
"People were saying we were not good enough but we kept the confidence really high because we know we have the players and the quality to do it," defender Gael Clichy said this week.
"Of course, when you find yourself 11 points behind the leaders you ask yourself: 'It's going to be really difficult. Are we capable of doing it?' and a few weeks later you find yourself back in the title race and that's a good feeling.
"So that shows you the character in the squad and, once again, with the players we have, I'm sure we can do it."
Chelsea lead the way with 61 points ahead of United on 60 and Arsenal on 58. All three teams have played 28 games.
Arsenal battled to a 3-1 victory at Stoke City last Saturday in a game overshadowed by the appalling double-leg break suffered by 19-year-old Aaron Ramsey.
"The title race will be tight until the end but this group is so strong mentally and have a unity so Aaron's injury will give us one more reason to fight until the end and do it for him," said manager Arsene Wenger said.
The Frenchman is unhappy at what he feels is a conspiracy designed to try to kick his team off the pitch but is also delighted that his young, talented but generally lightweight side has stood up well to their weekly physical examination.
Burnley, fighting an increasingly desperate battle against relegation, will no doubt do their best to outmuscle their hosts but with 13 defeats and a draw from their 14 away games this season the odds are very much against them.
United return to league action following the enjoyable diversion of their 3-1 win over Aston Villa in the League Cup final and they also face a team battling for survival.
Wolves were fined for fielding a weakened team in their 3-0 defeat at Old Trafford in December but, with manager Mick McCarthy running out of games to sacrifice if they want to escape the drop, they will come out all guns blazing at home.
Hull City, currently occupying the third relegation position above Burnley and Portsmouth, are behind Wolves on goal difference only but they too have a tough examination with a trip to Everton on Sunday.
Liverpool will hope to take advantage of the absence of their rivals in the battle for fourth when they visit Wigan Athletic on Monday (2000), while West Ham United host Bolton Wanderers on Saturday (1500).
(Editing by John Mehaffey; To comment on this story email email@example.com)
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