With just four points separating the top five, Leicester City top of the table and reigning champions Chelsea languishing in 15th position, the Premier League is tighter than ever. With 13 games played the Premier League, often seen as one of the most competitive in the world, is proving too difficult to predict for many, including Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger, who says he isn't even looking at the league table now as any team in the division could still win the title mathematically.
"Mathematically you cannot rule even the bottom teams out. So, at the moment, it is very difficult," Wenger told a news conference on Thursday (26 November)."I think it is so tight when you look at the league. I don't even look at the league at the moment because it is very, very tight. Last weekend, as you said, we had a bad result at West Brom and [Manchester] City as well so that compacted the whole table."
Arsenal's loss to West Bromwich Albion last weekend, combined with Manchester City's stunning 4-1 defeat at home to Liverpool, mean that the two league leaders have been dragged back into the mix and Wenger's men now find themselves in fourth.
With top two Leicester and Manchester United meeting on Saturday (28 November), Wenger knows his team need to respond against Norwich City on the Sunday (29 November). The Gunners kept their Champions League hopes alive with a comprehensive 3-0 victory over Dinamo Zagreb and Wenger said he was pleased with the response shown by his players to the unlucky defeat at West Brom.
"On the day as well, I must say, everything went against us. They had one shot on target and scored two goals - that will not always happen. And on top of that we missed a penalty and scored an own goal so we had a nightmare on the day. It was an unlucky day, that can happen also in a season. But it is how you respond to that and we did that well on Tuesday," said the Frenchman.
If Arsenal are to stay near the top of the table over the busy festive period, they will have to do so without influential midfielder Francis Coquelin who will be sidelined for three months with a knee injury. Coquelin was injured in the defeat by West Brom on Saturday and his replacement Mikel Arteta also came off after 35 minutes of that match with a calf strain.
"Francis Coquelin, as I told you, is [injured for] much longer. The scans are quite positive because he doesn't need any surgery but it is 12 weeks," confirmed Wenger.
Wenger's team have had to deal with a raft of injuries recently, which has disrupted their good start to the season. Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere, Danny Welbeck, Tomas Rosicky and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have all been out injured, though Wenger said that the latter could be in contention this weekend at Norwich City.
One player Arsenal cannot afford to be without is Chilean forward Alexis Sanchez. One of the most enthusiastic trainers in world soccer, Sanchez needs to be wary of burn-out following a busy summer leading Chile to Copa America glory and a busy first season in the Premier League last time out. However, Wenger said it is very difficult to drop a player who is so full of confidence.
"I take information, especially from medical people, from people that know him and treat him every day and afterwards we will look at his overall recovery as well. But, at the moment, when there are alarming signs you want to make the decision at the right moment. But, as long as the guys are confident, scoring goals, it is difficult to rest them," he said.
If Sanchez is rested against Norwich, then Wenger knows he can rely on the ability of former Real Madrid man Mesut Ozil, who looks to have finally settled in the Premier League this season and leads the league in assists.
The German has 11 assists this season, five more than anyone else, but Wenger is equally impressed by his goal return. Ozil has three goals this season, including scoring against Dinamo Zagreb on Tuesday (24 November), having only scored the once in the last campaign.
"What is very interesting in his game is that he is not only a provider now. He likes to get on the end of things and what he has added to his games are the runs into the box and he played before like he was not too much obsessed with scoring goals and more by providing and I think he has a much better balance in his game now between giving, assisting and scoring," said Wenger.