Mancini: Anything can happen
Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini claims "anything can happen" in the title race - despite admitting his side's hopes could be over by Sunday night.
Mancini on Thursday conceded defeat at Arsenal this weekend, coupled with a win for rivals Manchester United over QPR, would all but condemn City to the runners-up spot.
Yet the Italian is determined that will not happen and, with seven games remaining, believes the five-point gap to United can be closed.
Mancini, whose side were overtaken by United in March after five months at the top, said: "I can say I am proud of what the players have done in this championship.
"We were on the top for a long time and we have been fighting with United until now.
"I think we have improved as a team, in the Premier League title.
"Maybe we did some mistakes in the Europa League, and also the Champions League - but with 10 points you (usually) go through.
"I think we have improved a lot as a team but it is not finished now. I don't believe this championship is finished.
"If they [United] win all their games, congratulations they deserved to win the title.
"But seven games from the end I think anything can happen.
"We lost four points in two games. It is possible to happen to them."
City's bid for a first title in 44 years stuttered in March as they were beaten at Swansea and held to frustrating draws by Stoke and Sunderland.
Being in a position to challenge is not one City are familiar with and the season could be taking its toll on players, but Mancini is not looking for excuses.
He said: "After seven months it could be that we have some players tired but it is not only us. The other teams have tired players.
"In this moment it is important to be strong.
"It is easy to be together when you are on the top for seven months and you win every game.
"But you can pass by these difficult moments."
Mancini hopes to have top scorer Sergio Aguero back at the Emirates Stadium after missing the Stoke and Sunderland games with his much-discussed foot injury.
Mancini sparked rumours about the Argentinian last week when he refused to discuss how he had suffered the problem.
It has since been revealed the 24-goal striker suffered a knock on his last appearance against Chelsea and the injury was exacerbated by a treatment spray.
His return could provide an extra edge up front, while Joleon Lescott will also be welcomed back in defence after a foot injury.
Mancini said: "I think we will recover Joleon and probably Sergio.
"I don't think we have injuries for Sunday. Sergio is fit, he has started to train."
City's struggles over the past month have led to speculation over Mancini's future and criticism over his handling of enigmatic striker Mario Balotelli.
Mancini's former Inter Milan protege has commanded headlines throughout his two seasons at the club, but the past fortnight has been remarkable even by his standards.
Balotelli has turned up unexpectedly at an Inter Milan press conference, got involved in a training ground spat with Mancini and an on-pitch row with team-mate Aleksandar Kolarov.
There have been tabloid revelations about his private life and a car accident in Manchester city centre.
Mancini has dismissed suggestions that he has indulged the 21-year-old too much.
In the past week he has said he considered substituting him after five minutes against Sunderland and joked that he might have punched him were he a team-mate.
Mancini said: "Mario stayed on the bench for five or six games in the start of the season.
"He paid a lot of money, a fine, for his behaviour, so this is not true (that he is treated differently).
"If Mario is not one of the best players it will be his fault, because he has everything for this.
"I hope in the last seven games he can score and we can talk about Mario only for this, because he played well, because he scored."