Wenger: Players can be proud
Arsene Wenger insists his Arsenal youngsters must not be "ashamed'' of their season so far - and once more reiterated they have the mental strength to deliver the Premier League crown.
The battle-weary Gunners head to West Brom on Saturday out to make sure their title bid does not fall by the wayside following a testing spell which has seen Arsenal first lose the Carling Cup final at Wembley before then crashing out of both Europe to Barcelona and the FA Cup at Manchester United.
Nevertheless, with 10 matches left, Arsenal know their destiny is in their hands as they currently trail leaders United by three points, but crucially with a match in hand ahead of the May 1 showdown against Sir Alex Ferguson's men at the Emirates Stadium.
Much has been made of Arsenal's inability to deliver a big performance when it has mattered most.
But as his squad - still without injured captain Cesc Fabregas and England winger Theo Walcott - prepare to answer yet more questions of character in the search for a first trophy since 2005, Wenger maintains all is not yet lost.
"If you look at what we did this season, it deserves a lot of credit,'' said the Arsenal boss. "You have to put it right until the end of the season and continue to do as we did at the start of the season.
"Would anybody have predicted that we are where we are, in front of Chelsea and Manchester City and fighting for the championship? Nobody. We went out against Barcelona - it's just one goal, playing with 10 men and we had a chance in the last minute to qualify.
"I don't think we have to be ashamed of what we did - we should be proud of what we did until now. So let people talk and let us do the job.
"At the moment, the team needs mental toughness and to support each other, that's what you need. We are not in a disastrous situation and not to feel sorry for ourselves - we are in a position where we have to be attracted by what we can achieve.
"We are not fighting not to go down, we are fighting to win the championship, so we do not want to feel sorry for ourselves; just go for it. We went out of cup competitions, but what is stake is a championship and that means that the team has been the most consistent. When you want to be consistent you have to deal with disappointments.''
Veteran keeper Jens Lehmann has given the squad a boost this week after answering an SOS to come out of retirement and help ease the Gunners' goalkeeping injury crisis. Wenger believes the 41-year-old will help add experience to the dressing room.
"Jens is not a talker, it is more his attitude. His focus, determination and if he needs to say something to somebody, he does,'' Wenger said. "The team is more a unit. They are all young players.
"There is always a first time that you have to get over in life. The best way to get over that is to focus on the football that we want to play, continue to believe in the way that we want to play and focus on supporting each other and stay above the line and don't get pulled down.
"These players have grown up together. They have been educated together, they have gone through different periods together. I am convinced, at the end of the day, that Arsenal has a special meaning for them and that will come out.''
Wenger insists he will not walk out if the club again fail to win a trophy: "You ask about my commitment? When I sign a contract I respect it."
He also admitted that the player's confidence had taken a hit following their recent troubles. Wenger said: "I must say, at half-time in the dressing room (against Liverpool) I felt that the team was really on their knees.
"They needed some alert speech to come back and bounce back and, on the day, Thierry Henry made a massive difference in the second half and Liverpool accepted that we were superior.
"Is it a quieter dressing room now? Maybe. But I am convinced that Arsenal has a special meaning for them and that will come out."
Meanwhile, Andrei Arshavin disagrees and feels United are still firm favourites.
He said: "Manchester United [are favourites] in terms of stability, but also the football by Chelsea looks very dangerous, especially after they bought two strong players. Manchester United [look strongest] but all others who chase them won't let them break away too far. Including us.
"Now we are in a close chase for the title with Manchester United and still have chances to finish first in the Premier League. If we fail to do that I would consider this season completely lost for us. At the moment physically I feel well, but I cannot say the same about my emotional state.
"No footballer likes to lose and I am no exception."