Lee Dixon says its over, but Wenger still has belief in his young Gunners
Ex-Gunner Lee Dixon, who remains a popular figure throughout the Arsenal-speaking world, admitted after last weekend s 1-1 stalemate with Liverpool: It s dark days at The Emirates at the moment – I think it [the title] is over, yes. But Arsene Wenger s
Ex-Gunner Lee Dixon, who remains a popular figure throughout the Arsenal-speaking world, admitted after last weekend's 1-1 stalemate with Liverpool: "It's dark days at The Emirates at the moment - I think it [the title] is over, yes."
But Arsene Wenger's belief remains undimmed, although whether he can translate it to the players on the flight to Manchester after Tuesday night's deep disappointment at Anfield, is another thing.
A win on Sunday, however improbable, would set up an exciting final month of the season - especially with a relatively easy run-in compared to the other contenders.
With such a young team he has eye on next season - and the bigger picture.
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"We are young, still very young," he said. "You cannot convince me otherwise. [Emmanuel] Adebayor is young, Cesc Fabregas too. I cannot say they are old, I am sorry.
"They have experience. We have played in the Champions League final, but they are young.
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"They will be better in two or three more years because they will be even more experienced - and they will still be very young then.
"We are making progress compared to last season," he added, recalling last summer when many judges wrote his young side off even before a ball was kicked in anger. 'We have been going for the Championship for the whole season and we still are, although now it's become a little bit more difficult."
Wenger paused before blaming injuries to his paper-thin squad for the sudden loss in form.
"The turning point this year was very tight and we started when we lost Eduardo and also didn't have Robin van Persie or Tomas Rosicky.
"I think if we had got everybody back we would still be up there. We go until the end of the season and then see what it is like, but it was difficult to predict that all three of them would be out together and for such a long time."
Rosicky, like Eduardo, will definitely miss the remainder of the season. Wenger sighed: "It has been nine weeks now with no significant evolution in his injury."
His knee injury, sustained in January's FA Cup win over Newcastle United, has failed to heal adequately although, ironically, his rehabilitation was stepped up on Monday morning.
The Czech Republic national team doctor Petr Krejci told the Prague-based Sport magazine this week he will almost certainly miss Euro 2008 as well.
"It is possible that the problem could fade away in two weeks, but it could also last for another three months. Tomas is a big player for us and he would be a big loss.
"He can run and jog now, but when he does it for a prolonged period of time it begins to hurt him. We are not prepared to risk him ahead of Euro 2008.
"He is already resigned to missing the rest of the Premier League season."
Wenger, meanwhile, refuses to get drawn on why he hasn't spent any of his £70m war-chest, the largest available to any manager in the club's history. His squad has looked painfully short since January. The frugal Frenchman would only say: "Yes, we have a rich budget and a big potential - when the stadium's paid."
The margins between success and failure are tight, but Arsenal can at least take heart at their refusal to lose cheaply.
They travel north on Sunday, having lost just twice in the league all season - both times by a slender 2-1 scoreline, first at Middlesbrough last autumn and then at Chelsea - unbeaten at home for more than four years - last month.
Wenger the believer says whatever happens between now and the end of May, his side are on the up. "I feel as well some young players have made big progress and next year they will be better players," he added. "Players like Nicklas Bendtner, who has already made progress from the start of the season. Next year you can consider him a real striker.
"The youngsters have done remarkably well and carried the team through."
Bendtner, who scored the equaliser against Liverpool on Saturday, also admitted his frustration at how the past six weeks had gone - but is still hunting for silverware.
"We should have come away with more," he said. "It is obviously more difficult for us now in the league, but we have to keep believing. If we win every game between now and the end of the season then we will see where that takes us.
"We have worked very hard and played as well as anyone. We have kept going and kept the belief strong and that belief is still there, very deeply.
"If we can win at Manchester United on Sunday it might go our way. It would be very hard for us if we didn't win anything.