Arsenal are no longer fighting for the Premier League title, but manager Arsene Wenger is determined they do not let their season fizzle out when Reading head to the Emirates Stadium on Saturday.
Their defeat by leaders Manchester United last weekend left Arsenal third in and with only second place in the Premier League to aim for this term.
Finishing runners-up will be a tough task after second-placed Chelsea, who’ve now played one game more than London rivals Arsenal, went seven points clear of the Gunners following a 1-0 win away to Everton on Thursday.
But Wenger is confident his current crop of gifted young players will eventually bring silverware back to Arsenal.
Theo Walcott is likely to be given a start against Reading as reward for his impressive performances from the substitutes bench in recent weeks, and Wenger hopes a victory would raise morale within his squad.
“You cannot knock this team for spirit, but when you get knock after knock it is hard to take,” Wenger said.
“I feel we have quality here and I have worked a lot with this team. People do not know what it means to me to walk out with them.
“I think we have done a lot for promoting this league all over this world.
“But I want to win trophies, and am sad we can’t win any this season. But we want to continue with the way we play, but then play better, too.
“There has been a thin margin between winning and losing this season.”
Wenger will wait on the fitness of goalkeeper Manuel Almunia before deciding his squad for this game. But if the Spaniard is available after a wrist injury then Jens Lehmann is likely to drop to the bench.
“I will make a decision,” Wenger explained. “He got injured in training on the Friday before Manchester. We sent him for a scan and there was an inflammation so he could not play.”
Bacary Sagna, Mathieu Flamini (both ankle) and Tomas Rosicky (hamstring) are all still missing for Arsenal.
Reading, however, are likely to welcome back influential midfield player Glen Little to their starting line-up.
He has not started a match for over a year due to an Achilles problem, but will now help their bid for top-flight survival.
Steve Coppell’s side are just three points clear of the relegation zone, and have not managed to score a goal in their past three matches.
“Arsenal’s season is over in terms of winning the Premier League but as far as the Champions League is concerned finishing second will qualify them automatically so they still have a lot to aim for and play for,” Coppell said.
“Is it a good time to play them? We’ll know within the first 10 minutes. But beforehand you can’t predict an attitude they are going to have and I’m certainly not going to waste time doing it.
“They will want to put on a good show in front of their own fans. They must be looking at us to be prime candidates as the next lambs for slaughter.”
Reading play Wigan, Tottenham and Derby after their visit to North London.
“This game won’t break our season, but it could make it,” Coppell added.
“So as far as I’m concerned it is not a no-lose game, because with four games to go a loss is significant. But there is everything to play for and everything to gain for us.”
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