Arsenal head to Hull eyeing title charge

LONDON - Dismissed as also-rans at various stages of an unpredictable Premier League season, free-scoring Arsenal suddenly look ideally placed for a headlong dash to claim the title.

Their 5-0 thumping of Porto on Tuesday to reach the Champions League quarter-finals, even without the likes of Robin van Persie and Cesc Fabregas, had fans inside the Emirates salivating at what could lie in store in the next two months.

Arsenal are in third place in the Premier League, two points behind leaders Manchester United and level with Chelsea, and travel to Hull City on Saturday, the first game in a nine-match run-in that looks easier than both United's and Chelsea's.

They are poised on the shoulders of their rivals as the home straight looms but this is definitely not the time to stutter.

"We've been written off twice already I think," Belgian defender Thomas Vermaelen told Arsenal's website.

"Maybe we will have the last laugh, we will see at the end of the season. You have to focus every game and we will see where we are at the end of the season."

Only four of Arsenal's remaining games are against sides currently in the top half of the table with the potential dangers lurking away to Tottenham Hotspur and at home to Manchester City, both of whom are scrapping for fourth spot.

"I feel that we know we are going into a period where every game is vital," manager Arsene Wenger, looking for his first silverware since 2005, said after watching Nicklas Bendtner score a hat-trick against Porto.

"We are focusing on every game in the Premier League because if you don't do that you can lose anywhere. Already in my mind is Hull because I know that will be a big game for us."

Arsenal are unlikely to have Fabregas back for the trip to Hull where last season he was charged with improper conduct following an FA Cup tie in which he also did not play.

The Spaniard, who was also accused by Hull manager Phil Brown of spitting at his assistant Brian Horton, was rated at 50-50 for the trip to Yorkshire because of a hamstring strain.

BUOYANT ARSENAL

But with Samir Nasri in scintillating form and Sol Campbell a reassuring rock at the back, Arsenal are buoyant.

Champions United are at home to Fulham on Sunday but with Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City all still to play boss Alex Ferguson will remind his players they have little margin for error as they chase a 19th English league title.

United thrashed AC Milan 4-0 on Wednesday in the Champions League with Wayne Rooney adding another two goals to his incredible season after missing last week's 1-0 win at Wolves.

"He's just sensational and just keeps improving," Ferguson said of Rooney who has now scored 30 goals this season.

Chelsea, who have a game in hand over their title rivals, have not played in the league since a 4-2 home defeat by Manchester City and will be anxious to get back on track against struggling West Ham United on Saturday.

"Our home record has probably been as good as anyone's over the last few years but bad results can happen and sometimes they can be a kick in the right direction if you react positively enough," Chelsea's former West Ham midfielder Frank Lampard told the club's website.

"We have certainly got it in us to go on a good run and every team has faltered at times this season when there has been opportunities to kick on in the league. The team that puts together a consistent run now can go and win the league."