Arsene Wenger insists his Arsenal side have made progress this season despite once again facing a battle to hold on to a top four spot.
Wenger’s side travel to Hull on Sunday in the fourth and final Champions League place, a point clear of Everton who handed the Gunners an advantage by unexpectedly losing at home to Crystal Palace in midweek.
With four Premier League games remaining, Arsenal – who last season secured fourth spot on the final day of the campaign – are narrow favourites to fend off the challenge of Roberto Martinez’s side.
But anything less than victory in a dress rehearsal of next month’s FA Cup final at the KC Stadium will open the door for Everton to regain the initiative.
Having dropped out of contention for the title after leading the table for long periods, Wenger’s side has again been accused of failing to make progress, although back-to-back victories against Wigan in last weekend’s FA Cup semifinal and in midweek against West Ham in the league have silenced some of the criticism.
“I think we have moved forward a lot, considering what happened to us with a number of injuries we had in a crucial period of the season,” said Wenger, now the Premier League’s longest-serving manager.
“We were 17 or 18 times top of the league, that did not happen last year, we are in the FA Cup final, we went out only against Bayern Munich in the Champions League with 10 men and we had come out of a very difficult Champions League group,” added the 64-year-old Frenchman, who joined north London side Arsenal in 1996.
“I believe that we have shown some real potential and promise for the future.
“What you want from your team is to feel that the team has given as much as they could. After that, you leave the judgement to other people.
“We want to come out of the season and think we have given absolutely everything, and I must say this team has been absolutely focused since the start of the season.
“We had our downs, and big downs for some periods, but the behaviour was always focused.”
Meanwhile Hull manager Steve Bruce believes Arsenal are primed to compete with the big spenders of English football again.
The Gunners have gone nine years without a trophy since lifting the FA Cup in 2005, having adopted a relatively conservative approach in the transfer market in recent seasons.
Bruce though believes the addition of club-record signing Mesut Ozil in September signalled Arsenal’s willingness to compete on the spending the front, along with the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea.
“It was great to see them signing someone like Ozil,” said Bruce.
“Looking from afar, it seems they spent eight or nine years funding the Emirates Stadium and were not able to compete at the top level in the transfer market.
“But paying all that money for Ozil (£42.4 million, $66 million, 50 million euros) was a statement that they are now ready to challenge the biggest clubs in Europe for any outstanding talent that becomes available.
“It sends out a real message, because he is a terrific player, a real danger to any team he comes up against,” the former Manchester United captain added.
“Arsene hasn’t spent on anything like the same scale as some of the big clubs, yet Arsenal are always competing in semifinals and even finals in the Champions League, as well as for honours on the domestic front.
“How people can question him, when you look at his record, baffles me.”