Arsenal's 'fortnight of destiny' that will define their season
The Gunners must face Liverpool twice, Man United and Bayern Munich as the ghosts of February loom
FEBRUARY has been the graveyard of Arsenal's ambition in recent years, with the Gunners knocked out of both the FA Cup and the Champions League at this time of the year in both of the past two seasons - and there are fears history could be about to repeat itself as Arsene Wenger's side prepare for the toughest fortnight of their season so far.
But Wenger is confident Arsenal are strong enough to come through the daunting schedule that awaits them in the coming fortnight. Within the space of 14 days the Gunners have five fixtures, four of which are against some of Europe's finest clubs.
First up is the League encounter at Liverpool tomorrow, followed four days later by Manchester United's visit to the Emirates. Liverpool are again the opponents next Saturday - though this time at home and in the fifth round of the FA Cup – before Arsenal welcome Bayern Munich to London for the Champions League Last 16 clash.
Three days later, on 22 February, the Gunners host Sunderland in the Premier League, by which time their fans will have a much clearer idea of whether their nine-year trophy drought is likely to end in May.
Asked on Thursday if his squad was ready for the tough two weeks, Wenger replied: "Mentally we are prepared and we have shown a great response throughout the season when we had difficulties. Physically we are prepared as well."
The Gunners are two points clear of Manchester United and eight in front of fourth-placed Liverpool. A win at Anfield would in effect knock the Reds out of the title race once and for all, but Wenger appreciates the extent of the task facing his team on Merseyside. "There is no invincible team because there are so many quality teams in the league," he said. "It is just how close you are to your best every time which decides the game."
The Arsenal manager also believes that injuries will influence the business end of the title race as the wear and tear of the season takes its toll on players. The Gunners have suffered more than most this season with half a dozen of their star names sidelined for weeks at a time.
Aaron Ramsey will be out until March, as will recent signing Kim Kallstrom, but Wenger reported better news about Jack Wilshere, who could yet play a part at Anfield. The 22-year-old midfielder has been troubled by an ankle injury of late and faces a late fitness test.
"We might have Wilshere back and that's basically it," said Wenger, adding that Mikel Arteta was also fit again. "In the big games it is always decided by having the complete squad available, having as many top players as possible because most of the time these games are decided by players who come on or strong players who have a big statement in a big game."
But Wenger said the message he had for his squad ahead of their make or break period would be a simple one: "We did fight very hard until now to be in this position," he said. "So let's just enjoy it and give our best. I'm sure we will."