ARSENAL manager Arsene Wenger believes his side can afford to lose their next two Premier League games against Manchester City and Chelsea and still mount a formidable title challenge.
The first of a trio of tricky fixtures tonight at Napoli, however, offers less wriggle room, with the Gunners needing to avoid a three-goal defeat to progress to the Champions League knockout stage.
Asked whether the sequence would define Arsenal’s season, he said: “This game certainly, because it will decide whether we are in the Champions League or not. The two other games, not definitely, because we are five points ahead and overall the championship is a marathon. We’ll be in the race no matter what happens. But it will show our strengths, hopefully. [Tonight] is a decider, that’s for sure.”
Wenger was reluctant to discuss his summer pursuit of Argentina striker Gonzalo Higuain, who instead arrived at Napoli where he has scored 10 in 16 games, but compared his own man, Olivier Giroud, favourably, despite his 10 goals requiring six more matches.
“Higuain shows that he is a great striker. We have Giroud who shows as well that he is a great striker,” he added. “We’ll try to take control of the ball and play our game. Higuain is a player you have to keep quiet because he is of course very dangerous.”
A draw would win Arsenal the group and Wenger insists he dare not make many changes, despite the trip to City coming on Saturday lunchtime, with defender Bacary Sagna and forward Lukas Podolski still out.
Napoli boss Rafael Benitez has urged his team to strike early but is without Slovakia playmaker Marek Hamsik. “We will try to score as soon as possible and then see what the result is in the other game,” he said.
The Italians can qualify without a win if they better Borussia Dortmund’s result at Marseille.