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English Premiership

Gunners reach for top spot

LONDON, March 5 – Arsenal can return to the Premier League summit on Saturday, underlining the growing credibility of a title challenge that has looked forlorn at times this season.The Gunners, who have a much easier run-in than either of their rivals, can move level on points with leaders Chelsea, who are on FA Cup quarter-final duty this weekend, by beating Burnley at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday.

If they do so by four goals or more they will regain first place, although that will last only a few hours unless second-placed Manchester United are beaten at struggling Wolves later in the day.

Whatever happens at Molineux, Arsenal’s resilience this season has been nothing short of remarkable

When they were beaten 3-0 at home by Chelsea at the end of November it left them 11 points adrift yet a run of results allied to their rivals dropping points saw them top the table seven weeks later.

Comprehensive defeats by Manchester United and Chelsea pushed Arsene Wenger’s side nine points adrift at the start of February but again they bounced back and are in contention for their first title since 2004.

"People were saying we were not good enough but we kept the confidence really high because we know we have the players and the quality to do it," said defender Gael Clichy.

"Of course, when you find yourself 11 points behind the leaders you ask yourself: ‘It’s going to be really difficult. Are we capable of doing it?’ and a few weeks later you find yourself back in the title race and that’s a good feeling.

"So that shows you the character in the squad and, once again, with the players we have, I’m sure we can do it.

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"Everyone wants to be the champion and it’s always difficult to be the champion, but to be the team who hasn’t won anything for several years, it’s even harder because you feel the pressure of winning something.

"It’s a good pressure because you want to do well for the fans and for yourself and win a trophy. We’ve played good football for five years and we know that we are a real side."

That resilience was on show at Stoke City last week when Arsenal sealed a 3-1 victory after having seen 19-year-old Aaron Ramsey suffer a double-leg break in a challenge by Ryan Shawcross.

Ramsey won’t kick a ball again this season but Wenger was confident the Wales international could still win a medal.

"The title race will be tight until the end but this group is so strong mentally and have a unity so Aaron’s injury will give us one more reason to fight until the end and do it for him," Wenger said.

Burnley have other concerns as they are fighting against relegation and travel to London with 13 defeats and a draw from their 14 away games this season and Brian Laws, the manager, has presided over just one win since Owen Coyle, who had led the Clarets to promotion, left for Bolton in January.

Last week they lost at home to bottom club Portsmouth and though Laws admitted he understood why the Turf Moor faithful had not been impressed he insisted the cause was not lost.

"It’s not like it’s our last game of the season with no comeback," he said. "There’s a lot of games to be played and a lot of points at stake. If we can’t pick our points at home we have to pick them up away.

"Just let’s hope when the season ends we’ve achieved our aim and maybe look back with a smile rather than regret. We’re competing against teams who have got four or five times the salary we have. But are we good enough? Yes."

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