By Ed Dove
(Reuters) - Arsene Wenger lives to fight another day after Arsenal twice battled back to draw 2-2 with Manchester City on Sunday but, despite his praise for the club's fans, his side are in danger of missing out on the top four for the first time since 1996.
Against a background of supporter discontent over the form of Wenger's team as the Frenchman decides his future, with a protest outside the ground before kick-off urging the manager to leave his post, Arsenal were nervy from the start.
When they fell behind to Leroy Sane's fifth-minute opener, the hosts appeared destined to collapse in a fashion that has become all-to-familiar under Wenger, whose charges have won one of nine matches against their top seven rivals this season.
However, Arsenal rallied - demonstrating a mental strength that has been absent in recent weeks - - and silenced some of the dissenters with a gutsy fightback.
"Despite all that's happened on the fans front, I felt our fans were fantastic today," Wenger told reporters. "In very difficult moments in the game, I felt our fans, at 1-0 down , 2-1 down just before halftime, could have turned against us.
"I felt they were absolutely sensational and helped the team today get through that difficult moment."
Regardless of Arsenal's comeback, Wenger's future appears as precarious as ever, with CEO Ivan Gazidis telling fans at a scheduled meeting before the match that the club's recent underwhelming form could be a "catalyst for change".
"I'm not aware of what's happening outside," Wenger added. "What's important in football is what happens on the pitch and inside the stadium, and I feel the fans were absolutely outstanding today."
The Frenchman may yet decide to stay at The Emirates, although there is an increasing sense of finality about his tenure and Wenger's proud record of 20 consecutive top-four finishes seems in jeopardy.
Arsenal are sixth on 51 points, with 10 games to play, two behind Manchester United in fifth and seven adrift of Manchester City, who occupy the fourth and final Champions League qualifying position and have played a game more.
Some fan discontent may have been quelled by Arsenal's recovery on Sunday but unless Wenger can oversee an upturn in form, his proud top-four record, and reign in north London, are set to be undermined by his side's continued underachievement.
(Editing by Ken Ferris)