The Gunners entertain struggling Reading at the Emirates Stadium.
Arsene Wenger believes the experience gained from Arsenal’s long run of successful attempts to qualify for the Champions League will serve his team well in the battle to finish in the top four.
Wenger has overseen 15 consecutive years in Europe’s elite club competition, but Arsenal’s place in the Premier League’s top four has appeared more under threat than ever this season.
Despite Arsenal’s spluttering form, the Gunners boss has been encouraged by the win over Swansea before the international break and their failed effort to overturn a first leg deficit against Bayern Munich in the Champions League last 16.
“We just want to continue our form,” Wenger said ahead of Reading’s visit to the Emirates Stadium on Saturday.
“Bayern and Swansea is a good inspiration to continue our run-in. There are nine games to go. We play five at home and four away. With the form we have shown at Bayern and at Swansea, I think we have a very good chance to finish in the top four.
“We have experience of a few years. We have a special desire to do it together. That’s a good opportunity for us because we are back with a very good chance to do it. We want to grab this chance.”
Fourth-placed Tottenham looked certainties for a Champions League place until defeats to Liverpool and Fulham opened the door for Arsenal and Wenger is confident the Gunners, who are currently four points behind their north London rivals, can close the gap.
“We know that if we are consistent, we will do it,” Wenger said.
“We do not focus on Tottenham at all. We focus on the way we want to play and on our results. If we are consistent in the last nine games, we will do it.”
Although Wenger remains confident of finishing in the top four, he is looking for solutions to his injury problems this weekend.
Abou Diaby will miss the rest of the season with a serious knee injury and Theo Walcott is sidelined with a minor groin problem picked up while on England duty.
Kieran Gibbs has flu and Jack Wilshere is still not back from his ankle injury.
On Wilshere’s injury, Wenger said: “We deferred a little bit his rehab by one week. We gave him one more week rest because it was wise medically to do it.”
Wenger also has a selection dilemma over his goalkeeper as Wojciech Szczesny has suffered a dip in form.
“He has a great future. He is a very young goalkeeper. You do not find very many goalkeepers at his age who have the experience he has already,” Wenger said.
“That’s why I believe he has a great future. But he lives in a world where competition exists.”
Meanwhile, Reading will have Nigel Adkins in the dug-out for the first time since he was appointed to replace Brian McDermott.
The Royals are second bottom but Adkins is encouraged after a team meeting following the international break.
“We got a good interactive talk going and there is a belief there, what we have to do is galvanise ourselves in what is an eight-game season now,” Adkins said.
“We are in the Premier League and we want to remain here. Everyone has worked extremely hard to get in this position.
“We have to be efficient in everything we do to give us a chance to win games.”
Venue Emirates Stadium, Saturday 3pm
Referee C Foy
This season’s matches 19 Y41, R1, 2.21 cards per game
Subs from Szczesny, Sagna, Vermaelen, Rosicky, Coquelin, Gervinho, Arshavin, Squillaci
Doubtful Gibbs (illness)
Injured Diaby (knee, season), Walc ott (groin, 6 April), Jack Wilshere (ankle, unknown)
Form guide WLWWWD
Disciplinary record Y29 R3
Leading scorers Walcott, Cazorla 11
Subs from McCleary, Hunt, McCarthy, Gunter, Harte, Akpan, Le Fondre, Morrison, Blackman
Doubtful Kébé (groin)
Injured Federici (ankle, 6 April). Guthrie (knee, 6 April), Roberts (hip, unknown)
Form guide LLLLLW
Disciplinary record Y37 R1
Leading scorer Le Fondre 10
Arsenal and Reading have already met twice this season, with the two games at the Madejski Stadium producing an incredible 19 goals. The Gunners won 7-5 to reach the Capital One Cup quarter-finals in October (despite being 4-0 down after 37 minutes), and then won 5-2 in the league in December.
Arsenal have a 100% record against Reading, winning all 11 times they have met in league and cup.
Arsenal have won four of their last five Premier League matches.
Among top-flight clubs, only leaders Manchester United have been in better form than Arsenal over their last eight league matches.
The Gunners have led at half-time in seven Premier League matches this season – and have gone on to win them all.
According to Opta, Arsenal have scored six goals on the counter-attack this season, more than any other club in the Premier League.
Reading have lost their last five Premier League matches.
They have the worst away record in the top flight, earning just five points from a possible 45.
The Royals have conceded 57 goals, more than any other Premier League side.
Reading have the worst second-half record in the top flight; Arsenal have the best.