LONDON, January 19 – Arsene Wenger admits Arsenal have a golden opportunity to underline their title credentials as they bid to go top of the Premier League with a two-goal victory over Bolton on Wednesday.Wenger’s side defeated Bolton 2-0 at the Reebok Stadium on Sunday and a repeat of that result in north London would be enough to send the Gunners above Chelsea and Manchester United into first place.
After being widely written off as also-rans in November when Chelsea’s 3-0 win at the Emirates Stadium left Arsenal 11 points behind the leaders, there has been a significant change in fortunes for Wenger’s men.
While Chelsea and United have squandered points in matches they were expected to win, Arsenal have been able to put together an impressive run and Wenger knows it is essential not to waste the chance to grab that coveted first place.
"It is important psychologically, not mathematically so much," Wenger said. "We have a good opportunity to do it so we have to focus.
"When the season started, we were not all convinced in our squad maybe that we could be where we are now. Now that we are there, we want to have a go."
Even if Arsenal do go top of the table, Chelsea will have a game in hand on their London rivals, so there is no chance of Wenger getting carried away.
But the French coach is convinced his young team are capable of lasting the distance in the title race as long as captain Cesc Fabregas remains fit and in form.
Fabregas has been arguably the Premier League’s best midfielder this season and produced a majestic display against Bolton capped by his 10th league goal of the season and a major role in Arsenal’s second goal.
Games against title rivals Chelsea and United are looming on the horizon for Arsenal, so Wenger is well aware of the importance of keeping Fabregas on his game.
"He looks like a real general in midfield now and, of course, that helps as we go into a period of important games," Wenger said.
"It was a test of character (at the Reebok Stadium) and they have shown plenty, which is very good news for us.
"Over the years our strength has increased and we showed we have matured, we know when to go for the fights and we know when to put the ball down.
"Without a doubt there is still more to come because we are a young team. We have a very tough run of games coming up but let’s be focused on the next one and keep it simple."
With French winger Samir Nasri and young midfielders Aaron Ramsey and Fran Merida – who scored Arsenal’s second against Bolton – ruled out through injury, Wenger is relieved to welcome back Theo Walcott and Denilson.
England forward Walcott has struggled to shake off a host of different injuries this season, but his return will add a much-needed injection of energy to an attack already missing Robin van Persie and Nicklas Bendtner.
"They are available for Wednesday. It is a big boost to have them back of course because they were out for a while and it gives us some fresh players as well," Wenger said.
Bolton’s new boss Owen Coyle would love to have players of Walcott’s calibre to bolster his squad as he tries to drag them away from the relegation zone.
Coyle has had just 10 days to work with his players since arriving from Burnley as the replacement for Gary Megson, but he has already impressed the likes of captain Kevin Davies.
"I have seen a big change in some of the players, from the lads who have been starting to those on the fringes and those training with the reserves," Davies said.
"I have been really impressed with the way the players have responded to him and I think that is a credit to him.
"Speaking to players individually they have been impressed with his man-management skills."