Football: Wenger backs Arsenal to shine during tough spell

LONDON - Arsene Wenger insists Arsenal will prove their title credentials by turning on the style during a daunting spell for the Premier League leaders.

Wenger's team have been in superb form in the league, winning seven and drawing one of their last eight games to establish a two-point lead over Chelsea at the summit.

However, after losing at home to Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League and then falling to Chelsea in the League Cup, questions are being asked about their capacity to go the distance.

The criticism will grow more vociferous if Arsenal stumble against third-placed Liverpool at Emirates Stadium on Saturday, especially with a crucial Champions League clash in Dortmund looming in midweek followed by a trip to Manchester United.

"It is an important period of course, but I am quite confident and am quite relaxed because I have the complete confidence that we will deal well with it," Wenger said.

"I take it as an opportunity to show our strengths and I am completely sure that the players will be up for it and take this opportunity.

"I learnt a lot about my team through the spring period when we had our backs to the wall and had to win every single game.

"I know how strong these guys are and how much they want it. We want to be and I think we are title contenders."

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers has revealed that Brazilian playmaker Philippe Coutinho has been given the "all clear" to return to action, having been sidelined since September 16 with a shoulder problem.

Arsenal could be in second place by the time the game kicks off at the Emirates Stadium, if Chelsea win at Newcastle United in Saturday's early match.

The Europa League champions won all six of their games in October, scoring 18 goals, but right-back Cesar Azpilicueta has warned his team-mates not to get carried away.

"It's true that Arsenal have two really difficult games, but we don't need to look to the other teams," said the Spaniard, who opened the scoring in his side's 2-0 League Cup win at the Emirates on Tuesday.

"We play in a difficult stadium in Newcastle and we know it's always a hard game there."

Newcastle enjoyed a 3-2 win over Chelsea in last season's corresponding fixture in February, but they may be hampered by the after-effects of Wednesday's 2-0 extra-time defeat at home to Manchester City in the League Cup.

City are six points off the pace after going down 2-1 at Chelsea last weekend and will hope to make up ground on the teams above them when they tackle Norwich City at Eastlands.

Joe Hart is fighting to hold onto his place as City's first-choice goalkeeper, having committed the latest in a succession of blunders to hand Chelsea victory at Stamford Bridge.

Despite that setback, City can console themselves with the knowledge that they remain two points above cross-town rivals Manchester United, but the defending champions have shown signs of improvement in recent weeks.

United's 4-0 win over Norwich in the League Cup in mid-week extended their run of games without defeat to six and on Saturday they visit a Fulham side who were dumped out of the League Cup by second-tier Leicester City.

Fifth-place Southampton will look to sustain their excellent recent form away to Stoke City, while Everton and Tottenham Hotspur will both be gunning for a third consecutive victory when they meet at Goodison Park on Sunday.

The weekend will also witness the first all-Welsh game in the 125-year history of the English top flight, when Cardiff City host south Wales rivals Swansea City on Sunday.

The teams last met in the Championship in February 2011 and go into the weekend separated by two points, with Swansea ninth and Cardiff 16th.

Swansea midfielder Leon Britton, one of the few players in either squad with prior experience of the derby, says it will be an occasion when cool heads will prevail.

"It's very different," he said. "It's like a cup final. It's not like a league game. Sometimes it's crazy. It can be hard to control the game as it is so fast and furious at times."