After Arsenal’s first two games post-lockdown, it was looking like it was going to be a bleak end to the season for the Gunners. Successive defeats against Manchester City and Brighton & Hove Albion left the team floundering in the middle reaches of the Premier League table, with the season in danger of petering out.
However, in recent matches, Arsenal have improved their performances, and after winning four on the bounce including their FA Cup quarter-final win over Sheffield United, and securing a draw with Leicester City, the Gunners are back in with a shout of Champions League qualification.
The fact that City may end up banned from European football next season depending on the result of their appeal against UEFA’s verdict means that finishing fifth may well be enough to secure Champions League football at the Emirates for next season. At one stage earlier this season, when the team were struggling to find any rhythm in their performances, talk of Arsenal playing in Europe’s premier club competition would have been laughable.
But Arteta’s coaching methods seem to finally be taking effect. The team have looked more resolute in recent matches, signified by a run of three successive Premier League clean sheets, before Jamie Vardy’s late equaliser at the Emirates ended that run. Arsenal’s starting eleven has been more settled in those games, and every player has seemed more confident in their role, even defenders such as Shkodran Mustafi and David Luiz who have looked shaky in other games.
Attention now turns to that battle for the top four, or top five as it may well turn out this season. At the time of writing, Arsenal are five points off Manchester United in fifth, although this could change as teams above and below them have games in hand. The important thing is that Arsenal stay in touch, and make the race go as long as possible in the hope that their rivals may slip up before the season draws to a close. It’s set to be a tight finish, and the Premier League latest odds suggest that it’s anyone’s guess who will make it.
Arsenal’s next two matches will be critical in determining how their season finishes. They take on Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool in successive Premier League games, and you can safely assume that if Arsenal were to lose both of those games, their bid for Champions League qualification would go up in smoke. Following their first two games after lockdown, you wouldn’t give them much hope, but Arteta has shown that he can get Arsenal to turn up in big games, and with Spurs in patchy form and Liverpool in celebration mode after clinching the title, anything is possible.
Perhaps the question lies in what would be considered a successful season for Arsenal. Should their strong form continue and they sneak into that fifth position at last, it would undoubtedly be a brilliant result for the Gunners, considering that in each of the previous three campaigns they have missed out on Champions League qualification. But if they were to go through another rough patch and end up finishing eighth or ninth, would it be considered a disastrous finish or would it be acceptable given that Arteta is still experiencing a bedding-in process?
Either way, Arsenal’s fans will always maintain that their club should be competing in the Champions League, and having played for Arsenal for five years, Arteta will be well aware of the standards expected of him. But it may well prove that the team have just left it too late this season to realistically be in with a shout of a top five finish. The next two games will be crucial, but even if they don’t go Arsenal’s way, supporters should take comfort that they have a manager who is clearly leading the team in the right direction.