Wenger welcomes back Gunners and aims to maintain run

Arsene Wenger never likes an international break and this last one was particularly unwelcome. Arsenal had bounced back strongly after losing to the two Manchester clubs to win their next six games and the Frenchman lamented that a two week interlude betw

Arsene Wenger never likes an international break and this last one was particularly unwelcome.

Arsenal had bounced back strongly after losing to the two Manchester clubs to win their next six games and the Frenchman lamented that a two week interlude between Premier League fixtures was "badly timed".

His side's form throughout September and early October - scoring 18 times in the process - has given fans huge reason for optimism, particularly a majestic 6-2 win over Blackburn Rovers in their last league outing.

Two Champions League wins have also made early qualification to the knockout stages a distinct possibility.

"What impressed me most is the attitude and the spirit, the quality of our team play and the fact that even when we had disappointing results, like at Manchester United and Man-chester City, the quality was still there," Wenger said previously.

"The resolve in the games afterwards was even stronger. So at the moment it looks good and we are very hopeful for the future."

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Wenger will assess tomorrow (Friday) the varying states of his returning players from four continents before planning ahead for the visit of Birmingham City on Saturday.

Nicklas Bendtner, buoyed by Denmark's 1-0 win over Scandinavian rivals Sweden last weekend, which secured their place at next summer's finals, could start against the Blues if he came through last night's final qualifier with Hungary unscathed.

Forgotten defender Philippe Senderos netted twice for Switzerland in a comprehensive win in Luxembourg last weekend, which all but confirmed their seat at world football's top table next summer, while Carlos Vela scored for Mexico at the Aztec Stadium with his country also booking their flight to South Africa.

Wenger believes qualification for the World Cup can only benefit Arsenal.

"I am keen for my players to qualify, hopefully as quickly as possible as group winners, because that would preclude them from having to play a play-off game in November," said Wenger, who will have French internationals Gael Clichy, Abou Diaby, William Gallas and Bacary Sagna in World Cup play-off action next month, as well as Russian playmaker Andrey Arshavin.

"I am convinced it is important for the players to go to the World Cup, but as well I know that those who have a good World Cup are those who win with their clubs during the season.

"We have seen that before here (with France), and so the most important thing is that they do well with the club and it puts you in a strong position confidence-wise for what follows."

But first come Birmingham City; the latest English football club to fall into foreign hands after Carson Yeung finally took the keys to St Andrew's last week.

Their new Chinese owner immediately went on a charm offensive, considerably dropping ticket prices in a bid to boost flagging attendances, but investment in a dull side set for a long relegation battle is vital.

Their paltry return of five league goals has been shared out between five players and they have won just twice in their opening eight fixtures, losing five of their last six in all competitions.

"I expect us beat Birmingham comfortably at the weekend," says former Arsenal midfielder Ray Parlour.

"Arsenal are really playing well with great confidence - and I have been particularly impressed with our attacking. It's incredible. Tomas Rosicky has been brilliant since coming back from injury.

"Robin van Persie is bang on form while Cesc Fabregas was absolutely superb against Blackburn, in fact it was probably the best game he has ever played for us.

"Arsene Wenger is quite happy with the way things are going - Thomas Vermaelen has settled in brilliantly at centre back and is also our leading scorer.

"And I must give Alex Song a mention. A holding midfield player is vital this season, and he has been solid and done really well when he has needed to. I hope he can keep it going for the rest of the season, because his role is key to our success."

Spanish goalkeeper Manuel Almunia, who has been well rested after last playing in that 4-2 defeat at Manchester City on September 12, is expected to return from a chest infection, while Poland international Lukasz Fabianski (knee) and winger Samir Nasri (broken leg) are also set to return to full training, although neither will be ready for Saturday's squad.

Wenger said this week: "After the international break, both Lukasz Fabianski and Samir Nasri should be very close to returns from their long-term injuries.

"They will need a bit of time, but have both done good fitness work so once they start to train again with the team, we will have a very short time to wait."

Eduardo (thigh) and Denilson (back) also face late fitness tests.

Ham & High Verdict: Birmingham have drawn on two of their last four visits to Arsenal but haven't won at the Gunners for 52 years. Expect that to continue. Blues have little firepower and a fragile defence;

Ham & High predicts: Arsenal to walk it 3-0.