Wenger: we have belief to fight for the title
Arsene Wenger believes his Arsenal side are now proving they have the character to fight for the Premier League title.
The Gunners have been questioned in the past about not being up for the fight required to win silverware on a regular basis in recent seasons.
They welcome Manchester City to the Emirates Stadium tonight looking to keep their title credentials intact having already seen off fellow top-four sides Leicester and Manchester United with relative ease this season.
Having lifted the FA Cup for the past two years Arsenal ended a barren spell without trophies and are right in the title picture once again.
A 3-0 victory at Olympiacos two weeks ago also saw them progress into the Champions League last 16 - where they will meet Barcelona - and Wenger feels recent results are showing his players are answering the critics in the right fashion.
"We have to accept that's part of it but we have to give our answer on the pitch week in, week out, and that will slowly die," he said.
"It was true for a while because we were a young team and a young team can be up and down. But I believe now we have shown that what we did at Olympiacos is not a team of no character.
"You need to be special to achieve that. We won the FA Cup in the last two seasons and you need character to win the FA Cup. Everybody would love to do it every year."
Wenger feels consistency is the main proof of characters and his team need to show that over the festive period to prevent themselves slipping away in the new year.
The inability to put together a largely consistent season is one of the reasons Arsenal remain without a title since 2004 but, having gone to high-flying Leicester and won 5-2, Wenger has backed his current crop to turn that around.
He said: "We are the only team who have beaten Leicester basically, and in a convincing way. The character is down to consistency in life.
"That's what I call character. All of us can be for one day in our life exceptional but character is to have a target and maintain your focus on that target.
"That's what I call character and that's what we have to show in the league. What I feel is great team spirit and great unity in the dressing room, and focus to go forward, that's for sure. After that, we have to answer on the pitch 'are we good enough?'"
Wenger has not ruled out talismanic Chilean Alexis Sanchez recovering from a hamstring problem in time to return against City.
The former Barcelona forward, as well as club-record signing Mesut Ozil, have been in fine form for the Gunners this season while Olivier Giroud continues to confound his critics having scored 27 goals in the calender year.
In the past, those types of names could have been tempted away from north London, with City flexing their financial muscles over Arsenal on several occasions.
Emmanuel Adebayor, Samir Nasri, Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy have all left the Emirates Stadium to join City in recent seasons but - now they are on a better financial footing themselves - Wenger insists the club can decide whether players will leave or not.
"That was difficult at the start to take but we had to survive financially and we had to live with it," he said when asked how it felt to lose key players to the Etihad Stadium.
"We are in a much stronger position (now). I cannot say it will never happen again because you never know but we are in a position today where we have not to give in."
Wenger, meanwhile, may have snapped up Petr Cech in the summer but the Arsenal manager has been left thinking what might have been had he got the goalkeeper on board years earlier.
The Czech Republic international was Arsenal's only signing ahead of the season, making them the only side in the top five leagues in Europe to not bring in a single outfield recruit.
But Cech, who arrived from London rivals Chelsea having lost his number one status to Thibaut Courtois, has since shown that he could make a vital difference for the Gunners this season.
The 33-year-old's shut-out in last weekend's win at Aston Villa last weekend means he has now drawn level with David James for the record number of Barclays Premier League clean sheets with 169 to his name.
A victory over title rivals City tonight could see Wenger's side sit top of the table at Christmas as they go in search of their first Premier League crown in over a decade.
And the Arsenal manager admits he is left to ponder if that would still have been the case had it been his side, and not Chelsea, who prized Cech away from Rennes in 2004.
"I think he has brought his experience and his calm and his leadership as well," he said.
"Sometimes it comes to my mind that it makes me just think that I missed him when he was at Rennes, and how that could have changed for us if we had signed him in that period.
"What I say could be a bit detrimental to David Ospina, and I don't want to be because he was exceptional last year, but Petr Cech, he has done it all.
"He is someone who gives you an aura, a charisma that is always important in the big games for the players.
"You always look around you in the dressing room before a big game and you think, 'Are we strong enough?' And these kind of faces help you to believe it.
"He went to Chelsea from Rennes and we could have been quicker maybe on the day than Chelsea.
"Especially because I know his agent very well."