LONDON: Arsene Wenger believes Arsenal are finally equipped to last the pace in the Premier League title race.
Wenger’s side have struggled to match the financial muscle and strength in depth of the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City in recent years.
But the Gunners appear in much better shape to slug it out with their title rivals this season after reeling off seven successive wins in all competitions.
Arsenal have enjoyed similar hot streaks before fading in the past, but boss Wenger, speaking ahead of Saturday’s home clash with Middlesbrough, sees a more steely side to his squad this time.
“Before the season everybody would say that it could be a very tight, interesting championship,” said Wenger, whose side are behind leaders City on goal difference.
“After the first two or three games people felt that City would run away with it, or Man United would after they won their first three games as well.
“But I believe we are all in the same pack and it’s down to being consistent and trying to focus game after game. From Man City to United to Chelsea, everybody has a chance.
“We are consistent at the moment and I feel there is more to come out from our team.”
City, still smarting from Wednesday’s 4-0 Champions League loss away to manager Pep Guardiola’s former club Barcelona, are not in action again until Sunday when they face Southampton at Eastlands.
Should Arsenal and Tottenham both slip up, City could still yield top spot to Liverpool if the Merseysiders, currently two points off the summit following their goalless draw with Manchester United, beat West Bromwich Albion at Anfield on Saturday.
Tottenham face a potentially tricky trip to south coast side Bournemouth, who’ve won plaudits for the quality of their football under young English manager Eddie Howe.
– ‘Unbelievable’ –
Guardiola is also known for the courage of his football convictions and he insisted those would not change after he saw Lionel Messi, once his star player, score a hat-trick against City on Wednesday.
To make matters worse, City goalkeeper Claudio Bravo, himself a former Barca player, was sent off for saving Luis Suarez’s effort when outside his area after gifting the ball to the Uruguayan striker as he tried to follow Guardiola’s call to play out from the back.
Guardiola won his first 10 games as City manager but the club have now gone four games without a victory, a 3-3 draw at Celtic followed by a 2-0 defeat at Tottenham before they squandered two penalties in a 1-1 draw against Everton last Saturday.
“Starting in Glasgow, own goals in White Hart Lane (against Tottenham), missing penalties, we give a lot for the opponents,” Guardiola said.
Southampton, by contrast, were unlucky to lose 1-0 to Inter Milan in the Europa League on Thursday after manager Claude Puel made several changes to the side that beat Burnley 3-1.
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho returns to former club Chelsea on Sunday, fresh from guiding the Red Devils to a 4-1 Europa League win over Fenerbahce — a match in which world record signing Paul Pogba scored twice and veteran striker Wayne Rooney started after three successive club games as a substitute.
Chelsea will look to carry on from their 3-0 win over faltering Premier League champions Leicester.
Despite their domestic problems, Leicester maintained their perfect record in the Champions League with a 1-0 win over Copenhagen on Tuesday and face Crystal Palace on Saturday.
Fixtures (1400 GMT unless stated)
Saturday: Arsenal v Middlesbrough, Bournemouth v Tottenham (1130 GMT), Burnley v Everton, Hull v Stoke, Leicester v Crystal Palace, Liverpool v West Brom (1630 GMT), Swansea v Watford, West Ham v Sunderland
Sunday: Chelsea v Manchester United (1500 GMT), Manchester City v Southampton (1230 GMT)