Arsene Wenger does not like to lose focus. He has worked hard in the last three months to ensure his Arsenal players do the same. When people ruled them out of the Premier League title reckoning in December, he still had belief. So while all the talk in the stands at the Emirates Stadium today might be about the mouth-watering prospect of taking on Barcelona in the quarter-finals of the Champions League, Wenger has demanded focus once more.
Barcelona can wait. It is West Ham who provide the immediate threat today. With Manchester United and Chelsea playing tomorrow, victory against Gianfranco Zola's strugglers would see Arsenal go top. "We have fought since August for the championship so it's important we keep our mind on what is vital to us," said Wenger. "The West Ham game is our next game and, in football, the next games makes your life. We fight hard to be in a strong position in the championship; let's focus on what is important for us. It can be a distraction if we speak about Barcelona and not West Ham."
As Arsenal pursue a sixth successive league win, it is no wonder Sir Alex Ferguson has pinpointed them as the side who could wrest the crown from United. In their past four games, five goals have come in the last minute, highlighting characteristics that were always questionable about Arsenal earlier in the season. Did they have the strong mentality and motivation to fight until the very end for the three points?
At places like Stoke and Hull recently, they dispelled the theory they did not. Wenger added: "We can show we have matured and are intelligent. Intelligence in life is to know what is important to you. We have promised ourselves to give it absolutely everything [to win the title]. "We are in a position where we want to win every single game." The return from injury of their captain Cesc Fabregas will make it even more daunting for West Ham. Zola described him as a "big, big player for them", but has taken heart from Inter Milan's winning performance in midweek that sent Chelsea out of the Champions League.
"Obviously on paper, Arsenal are flying right now, playing well and scoring goals," said the Hammers manager. "But I stand by the thing that football can sometimes produce surprises. It's not a great time, but we never give up." firstname.lastname@example.org Arsenal v West Ham, 9.30pm, Showsports 1 & 2