LONDON • Arsene Wenger has admitted that his Arsenal side's recent stuttering form has left them casting anxious glances over their shoulders at the clubs closing in on the top four as they seek to revive their distant Premier League challenge at Everton today.
The London club travel to Goodison Park having won only once - against Hull City of the Championship - in their last eight games in all competitions, and only twice in nine league matches stretching back to mid-January.
Should they succumb on Merseyside and both West Ham and Manchester City win, then Arsenal could drop out of the top four this weekend for the first time since the end of September, threatening Wenger's pristine record of top-four finishes throughout his career at the club.
"Of course, we need to look over our shoulders because it's very tight," said the Arsenal manager yesterday.
"I believe the Premier League (title race) is far from over. But we also have to look behind us because things can change very quickly.
"We want to move forward, but I'm conscious that our position is not secure, even where we are. Things will change between now and the end of the season, that's for sure.
"West Ham have had very positive results at home, and went to Manchester United in the FA Cup and drew 1-1, so they are a threat. But we have to take care of our own destiny, and that's by producing the performances we expect from ourselves.
"We have to give 100 per cent to finish well in the Premier League and be in the fight until the end."
Arsenal departed the Champions League in Barcelona on Wednesday, with Wenger drawing positives even in defeat at the Nou Camp, having exited the FA Cup at home to Watford last Sunday, defeats which have focused minds on their top-flight campaign.
The Gunners sit 11 points behind leaders Leicester City having played a game less.
With nine matches remaining, the chances of them closing the gap on Leicester are slim and only three points at Goodison Park today will retain their interest in the title race and quieten the calls for Wenger to call time on his tenure at the club.
Everton represents a daunting start to their league run-in.
"We know the huge importance this game has for us," said Wenger.
"The advantage we have is that we do not have to overthink what we have to do.
"We know this game is of big significance for us, so we have to go out and perform."
Wenger, who suggested the club have made no contact with Zlatan Ibrahimovic over a possible summer free transfer from Paris Saint-Germain under the Bosman ruling, has lost Mathieu Flamini to a slight hamstring problem, though the Frenchman should return to contention, along with Petr Cech and Aaron Ramsey, for the visit of Watford after the international break.
Progress is slower with Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla.
Everton manager Roberto Martinez, whose men have tasted victory in just one of their last eight home league games, has mounted a strong defence of Wenger, insisting Arsenal can still challenge for the title if the league leaders suffer key injuries.
"The thing with Arsenal now is that they're only in the league. I think Arsenal could cope with three injuries but Leicester could not with Mahrez and Vardy," said Martinez, who will be without the suspended Gareth Barry and Kevin Mirallas today.
"I agree it will be difficult. I would say if Mahrez and Vardy got injured, then Arsenal would finish on top."
THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE