LONDON, November 24 – Arsene Wenger has played down the significance of his side's first defeat in 14 matches and challenged his players to prove him right in Tuesday's Champions League clash with Standard Liege.
A shock 1-0 loss to Sunderland on Saturday has left the Gunners eight points adrift of Chelsea in the Premier League title race and, for Arsenal particularly, increased the stakes involved in Sunday’s meeting of the two London clubs.
But Wenger insists the situation is not as bleak for Arsenal’s title hopes as has been suggested.
"We have played two less games than Chelsea at home, one more away and we have a game in hand, so I believe that if you put that into perspective it is not as bad as it first looks," the Frenchman said.
A point on Tuesday will be enough to clinch Arsenal’s place in the knockout stages of the Champions League and a win would further boost morale at the Emirates by ensuring they take top spot in Group H with a game to spare.
Having given the Belgians a two goal lead in September before battling back to win 3-2 in Liege, Arsenal look a good bet to achieve that objective, but Wenger acknowledges that a forward line missing top goalscorer Robin van Persie will have to be sharper than it was on Saturday.
"We had some deficiencies which we paid for and we have to make sure that is not repeated," said the Arsenal manager.
"We did not produce enough in the final third, which had been our strength until now.
"We did not have the right fluency in our game, nor enough penetrative runs to force the issue in the final part of the pitch.
"That is why we were not dangerous, rather than down to any individual.
"I do not deny at all the super-class of van Persie, I just feel we still have enough in the locker to score goals even when Robin is not there."
Wenger added: "We have a good opportunity tomorrow to finish first in the group and qualify, then after that we can think about Chelsea.
"The perfect way is to respond after a disappointing result, that is where you judge a big team and that is what we want to do tomorrow."
Wenger will have England Under-21 defender Kieran Gibbs available again after a foot injury and also has the option of starting Theo Walcott, who made his return to action from the bench against Sunderland.