Arsenal have what it takes to grab fourth place

Arsene Wenger’s side have qualified for the Champions League in every one of the last 15 seasons, and their two recent wins suggest that run may soon be extended

By Charlie Scott

For the red side of north London this week has provided hope – hope that maybe their season is not quite so disastrous after all.

Following two well-earned victories in the past week there is renewed optimism regarding Arsenal’s chances of finishing in the top four.

Yet if you were to rewind a week some were calling for Arsene Wenger’s head.

In the space of 15 days between February 16 and March 3 their season did appear to have derailed.

First they were dumped out of the FA Cup by Championship side Blackburn. Then they were trounced 3-1 on their own pitch by Bayern Munich in the Champions League. And finally on March 3 they were outfought and out-thought by Andre Villas-Boas and his energetic Tottenham side.

Wednesday evening in Munich was all about restoration.

News of Jack Wilshere’s ankle injury dominated the narrative of the build-up to the game, and many were tipping a repeat of the first leg score line as Arsenal stepped onto the pitch at the Allianz Arena.

A brilliant 2-0 victory was not enough to send them through at Bayern’s expense – with the Bavarian giants progressing courtesy of their away goal at the Emirates – but it certainly demonstrated that if and when Arsenal need to fight between now and the end of the season, they are more than capable of doing so.

In the wake of that game Wenger described how “every game is a cup final now”. There was perhaps an irony that while the Frenchman was likening fourth place to a trophy, their next opponents had just won their first major piece of silverware in their 101-year history.

But their subsequent win over Swansea at the Liberty Stadium yesterday underlined that they can fight if needs be. Two pretty teams produced a passing master class but it was Arsenal who triumphed.

A first club goal for Nacho Monreal put them ahead midway through the second half, before Gervinho made it 2-0 with a cool finish late on. Wenger’s side did not panic with the score at 0-0 in the 74th minute and both goals came after extended periods of possession and pressure in their opponents’ half.

That win takes them two points behind fourth-placed Chelsea, and four points behind their rivals Tottenham in third. Despite being behind at this stage in the season Arsenal will be confident that they will overtake at least one of those two sides.

Unlike Spurs, Arsenal are used to playing Champions League football. For the past 15 seasons they have qualified for Europe’s elite competition and they are desperate to get there again.

And while Chelsea won the competition last year, their Premier League run-in is far tougher than that of the Emirates side. Rafa Benitez’s team must play Spurs, Liverpool and Manchester United in their next 10 games, while Arsenal play just one side above them during that time – Manchester United in late April.

Their two London rivals also have the added distraction of cup competitions. Chelsea have a gruelling tie with Rubin Kazan to contend with in the Europa League and are still in the FA Cup, while the Lilywhites face Basel in their Europa League quarter-final.

Should Chelsea reach the Europa League and FA Cup finals they would have played in 70 games over the course of the season.

Spurs will also have the spectre of last season hanging over them as they lead Arsenal going into the final rounds of games. At this point in the last campaign they were 10 points clear of the Gunners, yet Arsenal beat them to third place.

Chelsea’s Champions League win meant that Spurs’ fourth-place finish was nullified as the Stamford Bridge outfit took their place in the competition. That collapse will be lingering at the back of their minds, even if they do not admit it.

If Manchester United know how to grind out results in pursuit of a Premier League title, and Wigan know how to turn it on in the latter stages of the season to avoid relegation, then Arsenal certainly how to secure qualification for the continent’s top club competition.

Wenger knows what is necessary, and Arsenal’s two latest displays suggest that he has transmitted that knowledge to his players.

The race is on.

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