Wenger ready to banish Birmingham blues
BIRMINGHAM: Arsene Wenger is convinced Arsenal can finally put the memory of their nightmare trip to Birmingham City two years ago behind them this weekend.
Then, in February 2008, the Gunners arrived at St Andrew's five points clear at the top of the Premier League.
But their title challenge collapsed after a traumatic afternoon that began with a career-threatening injury to striker Eduardo and ended with a last minute Birmingham equaliser.
There followed an astonishing display of petulance by Arsenal captain William Gallas who remained sat on the pitch long after the final whistle.
Arsenal's season collapsed from that point and their demise allowed Manchester United to take the title.
Now Arsenal manager Wenger's side return in second place, lying two points behind leaders United after hauling themselves back into the title race with six successive league wins.
The Frenchman believes his team are much tougher now than they were two years ago and cites the way they overcame the loss of Aaron Ramsey to a broken leg in a win at Stoke this season as evidence of their mental strength.
"We did not deal well with that particular incident on the day, with the situation we faced," Wenger said as he recalled the 2008 match.
"But exactly the same happened at Stoke, and we responded in a very strong manner.
"I do not think on that particular day we lost the championship. There were much more heavier ingredients, like some players not completely focused, and afterwards we had players who were at the end of contracts."
And he added: "We can only focus on our own performance because we know our route has to be perfect.
"To be perfect, it is important we focus on our performances.
"We needed some help from the other teams, but we know even that only now works if we are consistent and can keep our momentum.
"We have created a fantastic momentum and a great belief within our squad, but the consistency of our run is the most important."
Arsenal's cause won't be helped by the absence of Thomas Vermaelen, suspended for one game after the defender was sent off against London rivals West Ham last weekend.
With Gallas also out with a long-standing groin problem, Wenger must decide whether to partner former Manchester United defender Mikael Silvestre or young midfielder Alex Song with veteran Sol Campbell at the back.
Eduardo will be in the Arsenal squad although the Brazil-born Croatia international has yet to recover his best form since his injury.
"I have not spoken to him yet about that, but it will certainly have a weight in his mind," Wenger said.
"That is part of a career as well, to show you have that mental strength to deal with those kind of situations and Eduardo has a lot of mental strength. He can deal with that."
Birmingham's target is to maintain their place in the top half of the table after an impressive return to the top-flight following a single season back down in the Championship.
City manager Alex McLeish will be anxious to not to let standards drop, particularly following Wednesday's 2-1 defeat at Blackburn Rovers.
That marked City's fifth loss in six away games but they have a formidable record at home where they have not been beaten since September.
"I'm disappointed, not happy with some of the defending, and I've kicked their backsides, but I expect that they'll rise again to the occasion," said former Aberdeen centre-half McLeish after the Blackburn defeat.