Arsenal’s French manager Arsene Wenger / AFP PHOTO / IKIMAGES / Ian KINGTON
Arsenal welcome fast-improving Hull City to the Emirates Stadium on Saturday looking to recover from two deeply damaging results that have all but ruined their Premier League title hopes.
Defeats at home to Watford and away at Chelsea have left Arsene Wenger’s side a mammoth 12 points behind the latter, who lead the way.
But Wenger is refusing to give up on his side’s chances of clawing back that deficit and has urged his players to respond following their twin setbacks.
“It’s never over,” the Arsenal manager said. “We cannot behave like that. Even if you think it is, I don’t. We cannot even think like that.
“We look at the teams around us and we are all in a pack that is very tight, where the fight for every position will be massive like it has always been in the Premier League, maybe even more this season than ever before.”
Wenger goes into the game under heavy pressure, with fan protests at Chelsea including one banner reading “enough is enough”.
He is out of contract at the end of the season and again refused to elaborate on what may happen when his current deal expires.
“My future is not the most important thing,” he told reporters at his weekly press conference on Thursday.
“My future is in front of me every time I make a half-turn. What is important for me is that Arsenal Football Club does well and I dedicate my whole energy to the club doing well.
“Arsenal is made of special strengths and that strength is to be united when things go wrong.
“It’s very nice for you to take care of how I feel, but it’s not the most important. I am a professional and I have to do a job and that’s what I want to do.”
– Hull lose Dawson, Hernandez –
Wenger added: “You cannot be a fan until last Tuesday (when Arsenal lost 2-1 at home to Watford) and not be a fan anymore and not be behind the team this Saturday. It doesn’t make sense.
“We are in a fight there. We absolutely have to be united or we have no chance to do it, even if we had two disappointing results.”
Mohamed Elneny is back for Arsenal after returning from Egypt duty at the Africa Cup of Nations, but Wenger still has to assess whether Hector Bellerin can play after he was concussed against Chelsea.
“We have a question over Bellerin,” said the Frenchman. “He’s going every day for tests and process. We will only know tomorrow (Friday) if he gets the green light.”
Hull have taken seven points from a possible 12 since Marco Silva’s appointment as manager last month, including a 0-0 draw at Manchester United and a 2-0 win over Liverpool last weekend.
But while they are now just a point from safety, their survival hopes have suffered a blow after injury ruled out key players Michael Dawson (calf) and Abel Hernandez (hamstring) for up to a month.
The loss of the pair is offset by the return of Elneny’s Egypt team-mate Ahmed Elmohamady, while on-loan winger Lazar Markovic is available again after being ineligible against his parent club Liverpool.
Dawson and Hernandez have scored six goals between them in the league this season, with the rest of the squad collectively accounting for only seven following the exits of Robert Snodgrass, Jake Livermore and Oumar Niasse.
Silva is also without Ryan Mason, Curtis Davies, Markus Henriksen and Will Keane, but the 39-year-old remains upbeat.
“We’ve got some players coming into contention so I have a few more difficult decisions to make in terms of team selection and that can only be a good thing,” he said.
“We have done well, but we know there is still a long way to go.”