Arsenal seeks to overcome Van Persie absence

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> Arsene Wenger is confident his side can maintain its Premier League title challenge without Robin van Persie, who is sidelined for six weeks.

Updated: November 21, 2009 14:36 IST
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Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is confident his side can maintain its Premier League title challenge without top scorer Robin van Persie, who is sidelined for six weeks with a serious ankle injury.

After winning six of their last seven league games, the Gunners have moved up to second behind Chelsea. Although they are five points behind, the Gunners have a game in hand.

"Of course it is a disappointment and something we did not want," Wenger said of Van Persie's injury, which he picked up playing for the Netherlands in a friendly with Italy on Saturday. "But I feel we have enough strength to compensate for his absence for a while.

"We knew when Robin came out with this injury, that he would be out for a long time. But frankly I feared it would be more because the first news was very, very bad. So it was a relief that he would be out for six weeks. It will also allow him to be fresh for when he comes back."

The Dutch forward has scored seven league goals this season, and the Gunners haven't lost in any competition since a 4-2 defeat at Manchester City September 12.

Like other Premier League managers, Wenger has been sweating on how many of his other stars return fit from two rounds of international games.

Arsenal travels to eighth-place Sunderland on Saturday. Sunderland has won four of its six home games and lost just once at the Stadium of Light.

But the Black Caps have backup goalkeeper Steve Fulop in the team because first-choice Craig Gordon is sidelined for three months with a broken arm. Central defender Michael Turner and striker Kenwyne Jones, who has scored five league goals this season, are both suspended.

Chelsea, with an impressive home record of six straight wins, will be confident of staying five points clear by beating Wolves at Stamford Bridge. The Blues haven't conceded at home since the opening game of the season against Hull.

Third-place Manchester United hosts 12th place Everton but has problems in defense, with Rio Ferdinand out, John O'Shea and Johnny Evans doubtful and Gary Neville suspended. United hopes to have Nemanja Vidic back after a calf muscle injury.

Manchester City's visit to Liverpool is the eye-catching game of Saturday's schedule. The home side is already 11 points behind in the title race and struggling to find any consistent form.

Steven Gerrard should be fit to play and defenders Daniel Agger and Glen Johnson should shake off injuries to face City. But striker Fernando Torres is almost certainly out and David Ngog is likely to start despite breaking his nose playing for the France Under-21 team.

City is 10 points behind Chelsea in sixth place with a game in hand. Its attempts to get into the title race have been stalled by a run of five draws in a row. Liverpool, by contrast, has won six games and lost five, drawing only its last league game against Birmingham.

City manager Mark Hughes said Liverpool's pedigree of 18 league titles and five Champions League triumphs makes it a tough team to beat, especially at Anfield.

"Liverpool have been at the top end of the table and in Europe for a long, long time but we have to go to places like Anfield and get results," Hughes said.

"We showed with our performance at Old Trafford (a 4-3 loss) that we are more than capable of going to the big four clubs and turning in good performances. We are looking to do that again and make sure we have a real go. It's important because Liverpool are one of the teams we want to overcome this year."

Saturday's other games are: Birmingham vs. Fulham, Burnley vs. Aston Villa, Hull vs. West Ham. On Sunday, Bolton hosts Blackburn, last place Portsmouth goes to Stoke and Tottenham welcomes Wigan.

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