As we enter the business end of the Premier League season. We ask , "which teams would seal their places to play in the Champions League next season", staring down upon us. While this race intensifies, the one at the top has been amiss, unlike last season’s simmering title chase. Liverpool seem miles ahead at this point in the title race. A fact which has made it rather difficult to uphold the view that Premier League's high "quality-of-football" stands unmatched. So this race to play in the Champions League next seasons bring more subjective meaning than it as ever before. The ban imposed on Manchester City by UEFA for violating financial fair play rules has brought more positive uncertainty into the mix if you are an Arsenal fan. As being in the top-five could play out as a top-four finish in principle.
Arsenal's ambition for the Champions League spots this season has seen more lows than highs. A dismal start to the season had put a hard dent on this goal which saw most pundits wash their hands off Arsenal’s chances in December. But with Mikel Arteta’s repair job in the works, the most optimistic of Arsenal fans have reasons to believe but with advisable caution. And here are some of the highlights of it.
#1 Arteta's tactics
This one has been quite evident since Arteta’s start. With Kieran Tierney out with a shoulder injury and Sead Kolasinac struggling to keep himself fit for a significant run. Bukayo Saka has had to take on the much improvised left-back role on the left. What has been evident is that Saka has been pushing forward and taking the space left by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. He leaves this space wide on the left when he is making his runs towards the goal, pulling in defenders with him towards the centre. For all the forward movement, it is important Saka isn’t left exposed at the back. And this is where Granit Xhaka has found his niche back. He fills in for Saka when Arsenal is in possession and primarily looks to pass through the channels for Aubameyang. While this tactic has been on display for a good ten weeks now and has resulted in the creation of Arsenal's nest chances in games. To much surprise, the opposition teams haven’t quite worked this one out yet. And with time running out, this movement of play could push Arsenal’s chances for a top-four finish.
#2 Aubameyang's goals
Arsenal’s talisman for a major part of the last two years is the key to Arsenal’s top-four ambitions. He has come out with goals while playing in every side of the attack. He has adapted effortlessly as he continues to play in the left side of the attack with his intelligent running.
Not the role he was promised but he has thrived under Arteta. And has produced what is more than half of Arsenal’s goal tally this season in the competition with his lethal finishing abilities. With his contract talk depending on Arsenal ability to finish top-four, the whole team and staff should be gunning for him to continue and sail them through this phase.
#3 The inconsistency that has plagued every other contender
Apart from Liverpool, every team has been a bearer of inconsistency this season. The varying display of smooth sailing has been staggering. Probably the only other team which can be marked as a safe bet is Manchester City but they are nursing a ban imposed by UEFA at present. And Leicester City, who were brilliant and fun to watch in the first half of the season, have declined massively. The fact that they have not managed to win a single Premier League game in their last four matches and still sit third in the table captures the true essence of this year's competition. Chelsea have been no better, as they have failed to build any sort of momentum from their crucial wins.
Currently, Arsenal are 8 points adrift top-four but with a favourable run of games remaining till the end of the season, Gooners have reasons to be optimistic. They must continue their good form and pick up points to take control of any advantage that might offer itself in the weeks to come. The fall which was witnessed last season from a much better position must have been scarring for the fans. So, it is advisable to be hopeful with a hand on your heart.