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Arsenal look for a turnaround

Arsene Wenger and Jack Wilshere at a training session, in London

London: Mired in a “vicious circle” of poor results and increasing unrest among fans, Arsene Wenger’s position as Arsenal manager has rarely been under such scrutiny heading into Saturday’s home match against Aston Villa in the Premier League.

With the club on the verge of making it eight seasons without silverware, even Arsenal’s players have been forced to defend the credentials of their esteemed coach, whose record of qualifying for the Champions League every year since 1997 is under threat.

“I don’t want to focus on the negativity,” Arsenal winger Theo Walcott said. “I just want to focus on the positive side of the team, because I know how good those guys are, and get to where we should be.

“We’ve got the best man in the job to get our heads back to where they should be.”

After losing at home to second-tier club Blackburn in the FA Cup and then Bayern Munich in the first leg of the last 16 of the Champions League, another defeat at Emirates Stadium to a Villa side battling against relegation would be hard to stomach.

Arsenal are four points behind fourth-place Tottenham in the fight for a finish in the Champions League positions, which Wenger views as the equivalent of winning a trophy.

The north London rivals meet next Sunday at White Hart Lane in what is shaping up to be a defining match, and Arsenal need to be within touch of Tottenham after this weekend.

United manager Alex Ferguson, who is likely to be without striker Wayne Rooney at QPR because of a sinus problem, said the pressure isn't on his team with 12 games left.

They will also miss defender Phil Jones as he suffered an ankle injury during Monday's FA Cup and is struggling to be fit for the Champions League last-16 second-leg match against Real Madrid on March 5.

“Phil Jones is the one we are really concerned about in terms of the Real Madrid game,” manager Alex Ferguson said.