Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger backs Burnley to avoid Premier League drop
Arsene Wenger believes Burnley will survive in the Premier League this season after admitting his Arsenal side were lucky to beat the Clarets earlier in the campaign.
Arsenal welcome Sean Dyche's outfit to the Emirates Stadium on Sunday afternoon as they look to keep within reasonable reach of the leaders in the fight for the title.
Burnley occupied 10th spot going into the weekend but have taken just one point away from Turf Moor so far this season - although that was a hard-fought 0-0 draw at Manchester United.
Wenger's men are just one of three sides to leave Burnley with maximum points after Laurent Koscielny bundled home an injury-time winner, with replays suggesting not only was the France international offside but that the ball went in off his elbow.
Until that point in the game Burnley had held their own against the Gunners and Wenger reckons he saw enough in October to suggest Dyche can prevent an instant return to the Championship for the first time in Burnley's Premier League history.
"It was the game where we have maybe been the most lucky because Koscielny touched the ball with his hand for the goal," said Wenger.
"I must say we were very close to drawing and maybe even losing the game because they had one or two chances from set-pieces with Sam Vokes.
"When we came out of the game I thought, 'They will not go down', because of their spirit and organisation. They have strong points there and they accept that they will give you the ball.
"Not many teams do that and keep their focus. They say, 'okay, from the start of the game you have the ball but we might try to kill you at some stage'. You need a special spirit to do that.
"Once you have 10 years in the Premier League, you have the pressure to do a bit more. In the first year, everybody accepts you will do that and that makes them dangerous because they are good at it and they accept it all together. That makes it efficient."
Burnley have lost just one of their last five league games, while Arsenal have won three of their most recent four.
Despite losing only three times so far in the league this season, Wenger finds his side eight points adrift of leaders Chelsea and admits every game from now until the end of the year must be treated as a cup final if they are to reel in Antonio Conte's Blues.
"We are in a position where we cannot look around us too much because one team is miles ahead," he added.
"For us, every game is a cup final. Chelsea are ahead and all the rest around us are fighting.
"First of all it is important to make a distance on the teams around you, take advantage of any points they drop and also try to get closer to Chelsea, because you never know."
Wenger welcomes back Kieran Gibbs, Hector Bellerin and Francis Coquelin into his squad for Sunday's clash at the Emirates Stadium as the trio have recovered from recent injuries.
But captain Per Mertesacker is still some distance away from a return having not played this season following a serious knee injury in a July friendly against Lens.
Although he has been absent, Arsenal opted to take up an option to extend the 32-year-old's contract for another year as it was due to expire in the summer.
And the German World Cup winner has received glowing praise from team-mate Granit Xhaka, even though the pair have never had the opportunity to play alongside one another.
"Unfortunately I have not had the chance to train with Per since I arrived here, actually," Xhaka said.
"Straight away, I noticed his importance in the dressing room because he is a real leader here and hopefully he can get back healthy and we can have him for the second half of the season."
After Burnley and their FA Cup fourth-round trip to Southampton, Arsenal face Watford in the league.
That is followed by a tough trip to Chelsea, and Switzerland international Xhaka admits the next three Premier League outings could define Arsenal's season.
"I think firstly it was important to win at Swansea and the way we did with the 4-0 win there," he added.
"Then we have the two home games coming up against Burnley and Watford.
"To be honest, I see it in the same way as the boss - these next three games could really tell a lot about what direction we are going to go in this season."