Norwich City defender Adam Drury
Arsene Wenger takes charge of his 900th game as Arsenal manager against Norwich on Saturday looking for the victory that will keep his side on course for Champions League qualification.
Away wins for Tottenham and Newcastle on Wednesday night brought both clubs to within a point of the third place Gunners, who host the Canaries on Saturday lunchtime in the only Premier League fixture of the day.
A home win would therefore extend that advantage to four points ahead of Newcastle’s home game with Manchester City on Sunday and Tottenham’s trip to Aston Villa the same afternoon.
Tottenham are currently fourth, ahead of Newcastle on goal difference.
Chelsea, who are in sixth, could still catch all three of the teams above them and would further complicate matters by winning the Champions League, which would mean only the team that finishes third will qualify for next season’s competition, provided it is not Chelsea.
It was no surprise therefore that Wenger, who saw his side draw 1-1 at Stoke City at the weekend, wanted maximum points from the two remaining games, the last of which is a trip to West Bromwich Albion.
“For us it is important to win our remaining games,” said the Frenchman, whose first game as Arsenal manager was a 2-0 win at Blackburn Rovers in October 1996.
“Anything less will not guarantee third place and automatic qualification for next season’s Champions League group stages.
“I feel that this year the players have shown fantastic mental qualities and we have improved. You could see again at Stoke that this team is ready for a fight. Defensively I thought we were solid and we are now fully focused on finishing the season strongly and claiming third place.”
Norwich have little to play for except pride and finishing as high as they can in their first Premier League season since 2005 as they are now safe from relegation.
That had never been a real threat anyway for Paul Lambert’s side, who had given Arsenal a tough time at Carrow Road earlier in the season when the Gunners came from behind to win 2-1 thanks to a brace from top-scorer Robin van Persie.
The Canaries have wobbled of late, losing at Blackburn in between heavy home defeats by Manchester City and Liverpool but winger Elliott Bennett promised the fans they would not be going through the motions at the Emirates Stadium.
“It’s massively important to end on a high, because it would be a shame to waste all the hard work and the great things we’ve achieved this season – and haven’t achieved in the last few games. We will be looking to give a good account of ourselves at Arsenal,” he said.