LONDON, March 11, 2012 (AFP) – Arsene Wenger insists there will be no hangover from Arsenal’s Champions League defeat to AC Milan when his side return to Premier League action against Newcastle United at the Emirates Stadium.
The Gunners fell just short of overcoming a four-goal first leg deficit against the Serie A side last week but there was enough in the 3-0 second leg victory to suggest Wenger’s side are on the rise.
And having beaten Tottenham and Liverpool in their previous two games, confidence is surging as Arsenal step up their challenge to finish third.
“The disappointment is there but we produced the performance that we wanted, we were just a fraction short, ” Wenger said ahead of Monday’s clash.
“If we have regrets it is more down to the fact that we missed our first game and that we had many players out on a night that any player you put on at that level has a massive importance. In midfield we were a bit short.”
The recent run of results have reinforced Wenger’s view that his squad is good enough to secure a place in next season’s Champions League.
The upbeat mood has been enhanced by back to back defeats for third-placed Tottenham while Chelsea, lying fifth, are in a state of transition following the departure of manager Andre Villas-Boas.
Another victory over Newcastle will confirm the Gunners’s resurgence while effectively eliminating Alan Pardew’s side from the race for a top four finish.
“I always believed in the spirit and quality of this team. I am sure if we keep going that will come out and the target until the end of the season is to be faithful to that,” he said.
Full-back Kieran Gibbs shares his manager’s optimism, particularly as the injury list has been reduced.
“Now we have a bigger squad, we can rotate more, players won’t be as tired and the team looks a lot stronger. You can obviously see the benefits from that,” Gibbs said.
“Everybody has come together now and we have overcome a difficult period. We need to be consistent like this now for the rest of the season.”
Andre Santos is fit again after a three-month absence with an ankle problem but Abou Diaby has been ruled out after picking up an injury at Liverpool.
Pardew admits his side’s slim hopes of qualifying for the Champions League will be extinguished if they fail to beat Arsenal.
Newcastle travel to the Emirates Stadium hoping to repeat the shock victory on their previous visit 16 months ago, which came courtesy of one of Andy Carroll’s last goals for the club before his record transfer to Liverpool.
The Magpies’ unlikely top-four challenge is fading after dropping valuable points in their last two home games with draws against Wolverhampton Wanderers and Sunderland, though securing even a Europa League slot in May would be a significant achievement for a side who’ve punched well above their weight this season.
Defeat would leave sixth-placed Newcastle eight points behind Arsene Wenger’s side, who went into the weekend in fourth, and manager Pardew, who handed Arsenal forward Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain his debut as a 16-year-old during their time together at Southampton, said: “Without a win, our Champions League chances will be buried, which might actually be not be a bad thing.”
Newcastle are expected to name an unchanged side from the one that started the Tyne-Wear derby draw against Sunderland, with goal-scorer Shola Ameobi having to settle for a place on the bench. Peter Lovenkrands, the Denmark forward, is expected to miss the rest of the season with a thigh injury.