LONDON, January 30 – Robin van Persie's last minute midweek equaliser kept Arsenal's spirits up, but Arsene Wenger knows nothing less than victory against West Ham will maintain his side's recent momentum.
Van Persie’s late strike at Everton may have yielded only one point, but it saved the the Gunners from a defeat that would have wrecked their morale and extended their unbeaten run in the league to nine matches.
After the dressing room strife that threatened to undermine Arsenal’s season before the turn of the year, the fightback at Goodison Park provided a convincing indication that harmony has been restored in the dressing room.
With Wenger’s side currently way back in fifth spot, eight points adrift of leaders Manchester United, who also have a game in hand, Arsenal’s immediate task is to make up the five points that separate them from in-form Aston Villa and climb back into the top four.
But with Wenger inching closer towards a deal for Zenit St Petersburg play-maker Andrei Arshavin and Croatian striker Eduardo nearing full fitness, the manager is confident his side can improve during the final 15 games of the league campaign.
England forward Theo Walcott should also be back soon after a dislocated shoulder while Czech midfielder Tomas Rosicky is targeting a return in late March.
But if Arsenal can stage a late rally during the closing months, the manager’s insistence that Arsenal are close to challenging at home and in Europe will appear more justified.
French midfielder Abou Diaby echoed his manager’s sentiments after the Everton draw.
"We are not going to let up until the end of the season," he said. "We are going to try to get points in every game and won’t give up.
"We are very focused on our games. Of course, Aston Villa have been fantastic and are in front of us, but we are really focused on our job and what is most important is what we are doing on the pitch."
Arsenal’s cause hasn’t been helped by the loss of Mikael Silvestre for a further two to three weeks after the former Manchester United defender suffered a setback in his recovery from a thigh injury.
While Wenger admits he will make some changes for the visit of Gianfranco Zola’s side, he will keep disruption to a minimum.
"I will change things a little bit because we play (an FA Cup fourth round replay against Cardiff) on Tuesday but this game against West Ham is very important to us," the manager said.
"I will make changes but I don’t want to disrupt the side too much."
Arsenal face a West Ham side who have been rejuvenated since a difficult run in December and now stand in eighth place after a run of four wins in the last five league games.
The loss of Craig Bellamy to Manchester City has not affected the progress of Zola’s side with Italian forward David Di Michele stepping into the side and fellow striker Carlton Cole equalling Tony Cottee’s club record of scoring in five successive league games.
Zola broke the club’s transfer record this week when he spent nine million pounds on Brescia’s German striker Savio Nsereko but the 19-year-old is expected to be restricted to a place on the substitutes bench.