The Gunners’ renaissance hit a new peak on Saturday when they stunned Chelsea with a 5-3 victory at Stamford Bridge. They have now won eight of their last nine games and are within three points of the Barclays Premier League top four after recovering from a dreadful start.
Wenger’s men have saved their best form for Europe this year and they will all but secure qualification from Champions League Group F if they beat Marseille and Olympiacos fail to beat Borussia Dortmund in Germany.
However dazzling Saturday’s victory – Wenger is reluctant to let his team get carried away with the win and has called on his young squad to show they can produce that type of performance on a regular basis.
“We have now to forget about Chelsea, carry on, and prove that we can keep doing the job,” Wenger said. “We want just to qualify. Our job is to forget about the last game, take the positives out of it, and focus on the next one just as we had to do when we lost 8-2 to United.”
The win at Stamford Bridge, which came thanks partly due to a stunning hat-trick from Robin van Persie, put Arsenal within seven points of second-placed Manchester United, leading some to suggest the Gunners can now start calling themselves serious title challengers again despite their poor start. The Arsenal boss, mindful of how poorly his team played early on this season, played down those expectations, however, saying: “We need much more consistency before we claim that (we are title contenders).
“We are closer to the Champions League places now. The next step is to come back closer to the top four of the league before we do that... It’s our deep desire (to challenge for the title), but we need some time to get back in a stronger position before we claim that. We are in October and we still have a lot of margin to improve.”
Despite his caution, Wenger has been boosted by the return of key players from injury, notably Thomas Vermaelen, who could make his first start in over two months tonight.
In the club’s last Champions League home game, Wenger chose to leave Van Persie on the bench to rest him for the club’s north London derby at Spurs the following weekend. But with the Dutchman’s confidence sky high after firing in seven goals in his last four matches, Wenger is unlikely to do the same tomorrow night.
“It’s hard to take a player out when he is playing so well,” Wenger said. “It’s very hard to explain to the rest of the team that you are not going to play Van Persie when he has scored so many recently. When a player is playing so much confident football it’s difficult to take him out. He is kind of a victim of his success.”
Marseille are enjoying something of a renaissance after a tough start to the season and goalkeeper Steve Mandanda is eager to build on a run of three wins in domestic competition.
“It’s been a run of three or four games that we’ve been much better in,” the OM skipper told reporters. “The results have been there as well so everything is a little easier at the moment and hopefully it lasts. When we win we’re happy and there is less attention paid to our mistakes.”
The stopper is wary of Van Persie’s threat after his exploits at Stamford Bridge. “We know Arsenal’s qualities and he is very important to Arsenal’s team. But there are other players around him who are also dangerous.
“He scores a lot of goals, we know it won’t be easy but similarly we know what to expect. We’ll be ready.”
Aaron Ramsey scored an injury-time winner when Arsenal and Marseille met in the reverse fixture three weeks ago.
Despite being poor in quality, Arsenal had a few clear-cut chances to win the game and should have put the game beyond doubt before injury time.
The French team went into that match on the back of a poor run of form but, like Arsenal, they have picked up recently, leading Wenger to expect a tougher game at the Emirates Stadium tonight.
“They have the team which certainly is more at ease away from home than at home,” Wenger said.
“They are a side who can defend well and are very physical. They have gained confidence and they will be out to hit us on the counter-attack tomorrow.”