After Tottenham Hotspur failed to beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night, a top four finish is firmly back in the hands of Arsenal. If the Gunners see off Wigan Athletic and Newcastle United in their last two matches of the Premier League season, Champions League qualification will be assured.
Arsenal are very much on the verge of a 16th consecutive appearance among Europe’s elite. Indeed, Spurs’ midweek failure means that Arsene Wenger’s men may even be able to secure their place in the top four this weekend, should they beat the relegation-threatened Latics at home and Andre Villas-Boas’ side fail to win at Stoke, who are now as good as safe.
Another Tottenham slip-up is possible; morale is likely to be low after an energy-sapping trip to west London only fetched a point. To qualify with a game week to spare would be a bonus for Arsenal, with St James’ Park always a tough away day. But either way – make no mistake about it – the red part of north London are now firm favourites to finish above their bitter rivals.
But with expectation comes pressure. It will be interesting to see how the squad deals with the spotlight being turned onto their performances.
Wenger has been the target of criticism for much of this campaign but Arsenal have, arguably, rarely been subject to the presence of huge pressure. Apart from the 10 days or so in December where the Gunners lost to Swansea, Olympiakos and Bradford City, fan and media expectation have been relatively non-existent this season.
Since the defeat to Tottenham in early March and the nearly epic comeback against Bayern Munich which followed it, Wenger and his team seem to have quietly gone about their business. Having been tipped to miss out on the top four after that defeat at White Hart Lane, Arsenal have not lost since, picking up six wins and two draws in the subsequent eight league matches.
With the sought-after prize now back in their hands, having the correct mentality for the final straight will be absolutely paramount. A focused, relaxed and professional Arsenal brush aside Wigan and Newcastle with relative ease.
Two wins and the club can prepare for another assault next season knowing it is has the ultimate pull of Champions League football to attract new recruits. There have been some big names touted in recent days – Wayne Rooney and Julian Draxler to name but two – but these are the mould of player who wouldn’t look twice at a switch to the Emirates Stadium if they’d be competing in the Europa League.
It’s in Arsenal’s hands. To allow fourth place to clumsily slip through the fingers now would be nothing short of criminally unforgivable.
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