• Premier League

Wenger prepares for mental battle

ESPN staff
March 20, 2014
Arsene Wenger has a historically hostile relationship with Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho © Getty Images

Arsene Wenger has urged his Arsenal players to stay mentally strong as they enter the final stage of the "best title race" battle in living memory.

The manager, preparing for his 1,000th game in charge at Arsenal, insists consistency is the key with Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool all also in contention.

But with his team facing Jose Mourinho's side on Saturday at Stamford Bridge, Swansea on Tuesday and Manchester City next week, Wenger feels they are about to jump their last big hurdles.

"It's a fact that every game is so demanding that as soon as you have a little bit less mental energy, you are in danger," Wenger told Arsenal Player. "I have said since January that the most consistent team will win it in the end.

"There is a feeling that if we get through these games, it will strengthen the belief and determination of the team.

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Arsene Wenger joined Arsenal in 1996 © Getty Images
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"That will be massive. If we get through well these next games, it will be a big part in it [Arsenal's title hopes]."

Wenger's enthusiasm for the game and the challenges of winning more trophies with Arsenal has not dimmed despite his longevity and the excitement of this season's Premier League cannot have hurt.

He said: "It is the best title race I can remember. In terms of the number of teams still involved with nine games to go, eight for some, this is certainly the highest number I have seen competing for the Premier League. This league is so competitive that anyone can drop points anywhere."

Arsenal sprung back into the title picture with an impressive 1-0 win against Tottenham last Sunday, as they took advantage of Chelsea's defeat at Villa to make up ground on the league leaders.

The game at Stamford Bridge on Saturday could be a pivotal fixture in both clubs' title challenge and Wenger will not allow his focus to be diverted by the well-deserved fuss about his landmark 1,000th game.

Instead, he is determined to keep attention on a Chelsea team that he suspects will be a little more ambitious than they were in the goalless draw at Emirates Stadium back in December.

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The Frenchman arrived to north London in 1996 © Getty Images
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"In the Premier League game that finished 0-0, Chelsea were set up to stop us playing," he added, of a game that produced few chances as the Blues succeeded in cancelling out Wenger's side.

"We didn't manage to create enough to win the game and that is what we need to do on Saturday. To be creative, to create chances and to stop them from playing as well because they have creative players up front who can open you up when you go forward. We need to find that balance between attacking well and defending well."

Wenger's relationship with Mourinho has frequently been frosty or worse and the pair have renewed hostilities this season after falling out spectacularly in the Portuguese's first stint at Chelsea.

But the Arsenal manager was careful not to spark another war of words. "The [Chelsea] team is different compared to Mourinho's first time there," he said. "Then they had a very experienced team, with top quality. Now they have a younger team, but with top quality as well."

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