Arsene Wenger eyes second place finish after giving up on Premier League title
Arsene Wenger may not have been able to completely enjoy Arsenal’s 2-0 win over Everton on Sunday given the Champions League events only a few days ago. However, the Frenchman has been in a positive mood ahead of the trip to Loftus Road to face QPR on Wednesday night. This is due to a combination of results going Arsenal’s way and it leaves the Gunners with hopes of a second-place finish.
Arsenal’s victory coupled with Manchester City losing against Liverpool means that the gap to the second place is only four points. Arsenal are 2/9 for a top four finish in the latest Premier League top four odds from Betfair.
Chelsea have been top of the table for a long time now and they could extend their lead to eight points if they win their game in hand. Since the game in hand is against the league’s bottom club Leicester City, the Blues are expected to comfortably stretch their advantage. In such an eventuality, Arsenal will be looking at 12 points to recover in the next 11 matches.
Fixtures favour Arsenal towards the end of the season
Football has taught us to prepare for the worst and not give up until it is mathematically impossible, but Wenger – perhaps for the first time – is being a bit practical. The Frenchman, though, seriously believes that Arsenal can overtake City to finish second; a belief which comes from looking at the remaining fixtures.
Out of the 11 matches left in the EPL for the Gunners, only the three against Chelsea, Manchester United, and Liverpool look difficult. The rest of the matches are against teams in the bottom half of the table or those with little to play for in the rest of the campaign. Arsenal can seriously consider the possibility of adding more than 20 points to the current tally of 51.
This is turning out to be a campaign where top clubs do not accumulate a huge number of points. The close contest between Manchester City, Arsenal, Manchester United, Tottenham, and Liverpool says a lot about the points required for a top three finish.
There have been seasons when even 80 points was not sufficient to be certain of a top three place. The Premier League’s competitiveness has gone up several notches over the last few years and one can potentially see the runner-up this campaign ending up with just 75 points. If Arsenal can keep their Premier League momentum intact, there should be no reason why the Gunners will have a nervous end to the campaign.
Arsenal play back-to-back London derbies in the league
Home form appeared to be the saving grace for QPR a few months ago, but the West London outfit has failed to win any of its last five home matches. Their last victory at Loftus Road came before Boxing Day and Chris Ramsey’s team will have little confidence going into the match on Wednesday night. Arsenal should look to take full advantage of this situation by getting three points.
The Gunners have been slightly inconsistent on the road with defeats against Southampton and Tottenham spoiling their otherwise impressive away form. The match against QPR is the first of back-to-back London derbies. In less than a fortnight, Arsenal will be entertaining a West Ham team that has simply lost its way over the last few weeks.
Wenger has made it clear that the Premier League remains the bread-and-butter for the club. A Champions League qualification alone will earn the club more than £35 million in television money. These figures could be much higher if Arsenal reach the latter stages of the competition.
While lifting the FA Cup last season provided a huge sigh of relief and joy to Arsenal fans around the world, Wenger is a pragmatic and will prioritise finishing in the top three over winning the FA Cup once again. Fortunately, Arsenal are in a much better position in the league compared to recent years. Hence, they can afford to keep one eye on the upcoming quarter-final against Manchester United.
Aaron Ramsey has given Arsenal a major boost by returning back to selection, but Jack Wilshere remains out of contention. Wenger also confirmed that it is looking highly unlikely that Wilshere will be part of the squad for the trip to Old Trafford. Other injury problems currently biting Arsenal are the absence of Mathieu Flamini and Francis Coquelin in the centre of the park. While the former is almost certain to miss the next couple of matches, Wenger says that the availability of Coquelin will be determined by the medical team.
After being dropped for the win over Everton, it remains to be seen if Per Mertesacker comes back into the first-team reckoning. His replacement, Gabriel, did extremely well in his first Premier League start. Wenger acknowledged that the performances of Gabriel could now hold the key in Mertesacker returning to the starting line-up.