Arsenal can almost touch the prize but their season has been sufficiently scarred by cautionary tales for them to take anything for granted. The equation looks simple: beat the relegation-threatened Wigan Athletic at home on Monday night and take a bold step towards a third-placed finish and automatic Champions League qualification. With Tottenham Hotspur tied up with Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final and Newcastle United not having played at the weekend, the prospect of fluffing up an eight-point cushion beckons.
No one at Arsenal considers anything to be simple and not only because Wigan have found their strongest form of the season to lift themselves to 17th position. Arsène Wenger's men have dropped points against each of the table's bottom three teams. Focus, discipline and concentration, the watchwords that Wenger has stressed in recent weeks, must underpin the performance.
"We have a great chance to stay in [third] position," said the midfielder Tomas Rosicky, "but now we have to make sure of it. That starts against Wigan – and make no mistake, it's a very big game for us. People might not usually regard a match against Wigan as such a big one but they are still battling relegation, so there is a lot at stake for both of us. We saw what can happen against a team fighting for its life when we played away at QPR and we expect the same kind of performance from Wigan on Monday. We have to give 100 per cent to get the result."
Wigan have got nothing in the capital this season and on their most recent visit they were left to lament dismal refereeing that cost them dearly in the 2-1 defeat at Chelsea. Both of Chelsea's goals ought to have been disallowed for offside and the apology that the manager, Roberto Martínez, would receive rang hollow. The defeat, however, was the only time they have lost in six games – a sequence that has seen them win at Liverpool and beat Manchester United at home.
"We saw Wigan beat Manchester United last Wednesday," Rosicky said, "so that's an indication that it will be a tough test for us. We'll have to be on top of our game to win, no doubt about it. Wigan have some very good players and a good young manager, so this will be a very tough match for us."
Wigan's revival has been fired by the form of Shaun Maloney, the Scotland midfielder, who signed from Celtic last August for £850,000. Maloney proved the match-winner against United and it feels remarkable that he had barely featured in Wigan's Premier League campaign prior to last month.
"There is a really strong adaptation period for certain players when they leave the Scottish Premier League and come to England," Martínez said. "With a club fighting for the title in Scotland you get a lot of possession and the main concentration is what to do with it. It is straightforward. In the Premier League physically you need to find the right level, then you have to work out what you are doing off the ball and how you are going to defend. It is not easy.
"We worked really hard with him physically to reach the level we needed, then he had to find a partnership and position with our players. That takes time. He had a massive impact against Norwich [on 11 March] and since then, he has shown he is a player who is capable of that little bit of magic that gives you results. He makes the fans enjoy their football, which is something they really appreciate and has shown a real freshness in producing the quality we always knew he had."