LONDON – Arsene Wenger has challenged his Arsenal stars to hold their nerve as the Gunners look to cement their return to the top four against Everton on Tuesday.
Wenger’s side moved up from fifth to third in the Premier League after Saturday’s dramatic 3-1 win over Norwich, but the Arsenal manager knows there is still little margin for error in the battle to qualify for the Champions League.
The north Londoners are only one point ahead of both fourth placed Chelsea, who have a game in hand, and fifth placed Tottenham.
Even Everton still harbour legitimate ambitions of finishing in the top four and a win for David Moyes’ men at the Emirates Stadium would move them to within one point of the Gunners.
In the circumstances, it would be little surprise if Wenger’s players, who have crumbled under pressure far too often in recent seasons, showed more signs of feeling the heat.
But, so far, they have risen to the challenge of recovering from a derby defeat at Tottenham last month which left them seven points behind their local rivals.
Since that loss at White Hart Lane, Arsenal have reeled off four successive league wins and Wenger believes they are capable of coping with another tense occasion on Tuesday.(AFP)
“It is a question of nerves,” Wenger said. “The win over Norwich was a balance of nerves, quality and intelligence.
“We did not do anything stupid when we were 1-0 down and kept faith in our game. That side of the game will be important.
“We know we cannot drop points and we have to go until the end with this consistency.”
Wenger’s faith in his troops was tested to the limit on Saturday as Norwich took the lead through Michael Turner and held on until five minutes from full-time.
The turning point came three minutes later when assistant referee Richard West signalled a shirt pull by Kei Kamara against Olivier Giroud – much to the disbelief of the Norwich players, who surrounded Mike Jones after he had initially not given the penalty decision.
Mikel Arteta slotted home the spot-kick before Giroud tapped in to complete the comeback on 88 minutes and Lukas Podolski crashed home a third in stoppage-time.
With Arsenal playing twice more, against Everton and then at Fulham, before Spurs kick off against Manchester City at White Hart Lane on Sunday, Wenger’s team have a golden opportunity to pile the pressure on Andre Villas-Boas’s team.
But Wenger knows Everton will pose a formidable barrier to his side’s hopes and it may need another late show before the points are sealed on Tuesday.
With that in mind, the Frenchman has been preaching patience to his players.