Arsene Wenger has challenged Arsenal to win their final seven Premier League games of the season if they want to win the title. The Gunners briefly returned to the top of the table last weekend when they beat relegation battlers West Ham with 10 men at Emirates Stadium. However, both Manchester Uni-ted and now Chelsea, following Wednesday night's resounding 5-0 victory at bottom club Portsmouth, are back above them.
With just two points separating the challengers, and Chelsea still to face United at Old Trafford in two weeks' time, the title race looks like it could go right down to the last day of the season. Arsenal head to Birmingham tomorrow, while United travel to Bolton and Chelsea host top-six contenders Aston Villa. Wenger acknowledged that his side - who looked out of it eight weeks ago following successive defeats to their rivals - have been given something of a helping hand by others dropping points, and called on his young squad not to make the same mistakes.
"What we know is we have three teams in the race, and it will be down to the team which is the most consistent," the French manager declared. "We can only focus on our own performance because we know our route has to be perfect. "To be perfect, it is important we focus on our performances. "We needed some help from the other teams, but we know even that only now works if we are consistent and can keep our momentum. We have created a fantastic momentum and a great belief within our squad, but the consistency of our run is the most important."
Of the top three, Arsenal have the inferior goal difference, by seven. However, with matches against the likes of Wolves and Wigan, the Gunners could yet claw that back. Meanwhile, Wenger revealed that Robin van Persie could play some part for Arsenal as the season reaches climax, but is not expecting too much from the Dutch forward. The Holland striker has been on the sidelines since suffering a serious ankle injury while away on international duty in November.
Van Persie, who had scored eight goals in 15 appearances before his setback, has made a good recovery, and has now returned to the Gunners' London Colney training complex to complete his rehabilitation. Wenger remains cautiously optimistic the 26-year-old could yet play some part in the final few matches of the season, when Arsenal hope to still be chasing domestic and European honours - they face Barcelona in the quarter- finals of the Champions League.
However, Wenger said: "Do not expect miracles when a guy has been out for such a long time. "We are, though, happy to have him back and he is physically, fitness-wise, in good shape. We have just to get him back to full team fitness - that will take two to three weeks maximum. "After that you have to get a few games to get back to your best. It is very difficult to predict. Physically it looks all good, but after that when he plays in games you have to see how his ankle responds."
Van Persie even went to Serbia for radical treatment using massage with a horse placenta to try to help the healing process when he discovered the true extent of his injury. Wenger reflected: "When you are hit by injury, the first three weeks are very difficult. I believe that is behind him now, once you start to practice again. "The most important thing at that age is to be tired at night - when you can train, you can deal better with the frustration. When you lie at home at the start of your injury and cannot even do anything, it is very frustrating."
* PA Sport