Sun, Mar 05, 2006 - Page 22 News List

Arsenal needs to stop slipping in league matches

AP , LONDON

Arsenal's poor away form has already had it slip to seventh place in the English Premier League. A ninth away defeat at Fulham today would reinforce the feeling that the Gunners' best chance of qualifying for next season's Champions League is to win it this year.

Arsenal hasn't finished outside the top two places since 1997 but, having sold captain Patrick Vieira in the offseason and suffering injuries to key players, is now 28 points behind leader Chelsea.

Last Saturday's 1-0 loss to Blackburn had the Gunners slip behind Rovers in the standings. With Arsenal having just 11 games left, Tottenham and Bolton are also in a stronger position to claim fourth spot and the last Champions League berth.

"It is always a danger when you have a big game ahead, but there is only one way to prepare well for our Champions League game -- and that is to do well tomorrow," Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said. "Therefore, I feel there is a lot at stake for us tomorrow. It is a massive game for us."

If Arsenal's Premier League slump continues, it will be relying on victory in the Champions League to qualify for next season. It hosts Real Madrid on Wednesday holding a 1-0 lead in the first knockout round.

A draw between Tottenham and Blackburn at White Hart Lane on Sunday would also boost Arsenal, which has 41 points -- the same as West Ham, which has played a game fewer. Fourth-place Tottenham has 46, Blackburn 43, and Bolton -- which has played two games fewer -- 42.

"We have wasted so many points that at the moment we cannot think we can still afford to drop points because we are now in contention with five or six clubs," Wenger said. "The results can go for you, for one club or two, but not for five. We cannot afford to drop points any more."

Arsenal will be without leftback Ashley Cole for at least three weeks with an ankle sprain sustained in a reserve game against Tottenham, which was his comeback from a broken foot and thigh problem. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger hopes to have central defender Sol Campbell, who was given time off for personal issues then hurt his ankle, back by the end of the month.

"I believe he will be out for another two weeks maximum," Wenger said. "One week to get back to full training and another week to get back for a run out in a game."

Dennis Bergkamp and Fredrik Ljungberg will be back from injury Saturday and Robin van Persie should be fit for the Real Madrid game.

While Fulham has lost 11 away games this season, it has lost just two of 13 matches at its Craven Cottage stadium -- most recently to Manchester United on Oct. 1.

"We go to a team that is very strong at home, we have not done well away and it is a good opportunity maybe for us to turn it round," Wenger said.

Fulham has on-loan defender Wayne Bridge out after he damaged right-ankle ligaments in England's 2-1 win over Uruguay on Wednesday. Goalkeeper Antti Niemi may again be replaced by Tony Warner after getting injured during the warmup to Sunday's 2-1 loss at Bolton.

Fulham manager Chris Coleman was determined his team should improve upon that performance.

"I was bitterly disappointed with the defending for the second goal," Coleman said. "You can't defend like that -- home or away -- and expect to get a result."

Also Saturday, Chelsea hosts West Bromwich Albion and Liverpool can take sole possession of second place from Manchester United with victory over Charlton.

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