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Can two wins reverse a slide? Arsenal have scored eight times in winning their past two games, but those goals could be as confetti on the breeze if they slip up against Chelsea at Highbury on Saturday.

Bigger leads have been lost before, but victory would give Chelsea an eight-point advantage, and, such is the depth of their squad and their self-belief that their position at the top of the Premiership would seem all but impregnable.

Arsène Wenger, however, was defiant on Friday, countering an earlier onslaught from Chelsea counterpart José Mourinho with some wry ripostes. It was the Arsenal manager, though, who started this latest spat, wondering earlier in the week why more people did not support his side given they had "30 times less investment capacity" than either Chelsea or Manchester United.

Mourinho replied on Friday by asking if José Antonio Reyes had been a Christmas present, accusing the suspended Patrick Vieira of being out of control and then pointing out that whatever the result on Sunday, his team's fans would still be able to sing: "We're top of the league and having a laugh."

"I do not think that you have fans who laugh when they lose their game," was Wenger's reply, and his defence of his record in the transfer market was equally forthright. That Vieira will miss Saturday's game remains an issue, however.

"He has picked up the yellow cards because he was committed and he feels a little bit more responsibility when he plays next to a guy of 17," Wenger said. "He's the one who represents the physical strength in there and I feel that's why he got punished more."

The fact he is playing regularly next to a 17 year old indicates just how stretched Arsenal's midfield resources are with Gilberto Silva and Edu out through injury. The situation could worsen in January should Edu join Barcelona during the transfer window, as he suggested on Friday he would be keen to do.

Cesc Fabregas and Mathieu Flamini, with all of 37 years between them, performed admirably against Rosenborg on Tuesday, but Frank Lampard and Claude Makelele present a different magnitude of opponent. And in that fact lies the fundamental doubt.

Just as away defeats to Manchester United and Liverpool do not in themselves thrust a club into crisis, so victories over teams as mediocre as Birmingham and Rosenborg - emphatic as both were - are not necessarily signs of recovery.

Wenger and forward Dennis Bergkamp both spoke of returning self-belief, but Saturday is the true test. If confidence really is the issue, it does not help that both the goals Arsenal have conceded in the past three games have been directly attributable to goalkeeper Manuel Almunia. Simply by not playing, Jens Lehmann's star has risen dramatically since being dropped for the Carling Cup defeat at Old Trafford 10 days ago. Wenger, though, would not be drawn on which of the two he will field.

"There's enough pressure on the goalkeeper's job that you do not need to see it every time you open the newspapers," he said. "I said we had three big targets: to beat Birmingham, to qualify for the next phase of the Champions League and to beat Chelsea. So we are approaching target number three. That we have achieved the two first targets help us . . . believe we can reach the third."

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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