Make or break for Arsenal

Gunners facing pivotal moment in their season as Chelsea loom

LONDON • Granit Xhaka admits that Arsenal's English Premier League clash with Burnley today marks the start of a defining period as the Gunners battle to get back in the title race.

Arsene Wenger's side have fallen eight points behind leaders Chelsea and cannot afford many more stumbles if they are to catch their cross-town rivals.

After Burnley's visit to the Emirates Stadium, Arsenal face an FA Cup fourth-round trip to Southampton and a home league game against Watford before the must-win showdown against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

It is a crucial period that Switzerland midfielder Xhaka believes could determine if Arsenal will be in the hunt for silverware at the end of the season.

"I think firstly it was important to win at Swansea and the way we did with the 4-0 win there," he said, referring to last weekend's victory.

"Then we have the two home games coming up against Burnley and Watford. To be honest, I see it in the same way as the boss, these next three games could really tell a lot about what direction we are going to go in this season."

  • 4

  •  Arsenal's crucial stretch:

    Premier League: Burnley (h)

    JAN 29
    FA Cup fourth round: Southampton (a)

    FEB 1
    EPL: Watford (h)

    FEB 4
    EPL: Chelsea (a)

For Wenger, his approach is to treat every match as a Cup final because it is important to win as many as possible to get closer to Chelsea.

"For us, every game is a Cup final. Chelsea are ahead and all the rest around us are fighting," he said.

"First of all it is important to make a distance on the teams around you, take advantage of any points they drop and also try to get closer to Chelsea, because you never know."

The Arsenal manager will welcome back Hector Bellerin, Kieran Gibbs and Francis Coquelin after injuries. The in-form Olivier Giroud is also fit despite being forced off at Swansea with an ankle problem.

Burnley manager Sean Dyche is set for a triple boost as Ashley Barnes, Dean Marney and Johann Berg Gudmundsson return from injuries after missing the midweek FA Cup win over Sunderland.

Burnley have defied predictions they would struggle to avoid relegation following last season's promotion from the Championship, notching three wins in their last four league games.

Dyche, who will celebrate his 200th game in charge of the club at the Emirates, thanked Wenger for the help he received along the way.

"Arsene has always taken quite an interest in us here. And I have been lucky enough to have spent some time with him," said Dyche.

"When you get the opportunity to sit down and learn from someone who has had such a long and remarkable career as him, you are bound to become better as a manager. He has been so important for me."



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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 22, 2017, with the headline 'Make or break for Arsenal'. Subscribe