After a good run of five games made Arsenal fans dare to dream of a possible surge further up the table, defeat in the North London derby and a test of nerves against Leicester have brought everyone back to reality. In the midst of that good run in January, Wenger had not hesitated to show his optimism about a title ambition but after the last two games, the manager will rather live in the reality of the moment.
When asked after the narrow win over Leicester on his title challenge, it could not have been a more cold or blunt response from Wenger:
“No, I consider us in the top-four race.” Wenger said in his post match press conference.
The battle to make the top four has become the major plot in this Premier League season as clubs are beginning to appreciate the value of being in the competition and no one more than Wenger knows the value of making it into the lucrative group stages of the Champions League. Previous seasons have usually seen one or two clubs going head-to-head for that final spot but it is turning into a blockbuster challenge this term, with no less than 5 clubs in the running this time.
Three points separate the third placed team from Liverpool in seventh, while West Ham could still fancy themselves sneaking in to cause an upset or two. Going into the remaining 13 games of the season, there is precious little margin for error as every team will be looking to capitalize on the slightest slip up to prance further up the log.
Southampton have, against the pessimism of most rival observers, managed to hold their own within the top four this season and it will take some major force to pull them off their amazing run so far. The rivals will have some hope of overthrowing them, however, as Ronald Koeman modestly stated after their narrow win over QPR last weekend that a fifth or sixth place finish will do them good.
Liverpool would not have loved their immediate exit from the group stage of the Champions league but a catastrophic start to the season has been quite substantially steered to a forward direction again, the Reds posting the League’s best form over the last 9 games.
United and Spurs are Arsenal’s other main rivals in the heated top four battle and while one of them is an Harry Kane injury away from collapse, a galaxy of over-priced forwards are proving themselves ready for retirement. Both are still capable of pushing the Gunners to the end but having faced Spurs already, it will be Wenger’s hope that he won’t be going into that penultimate game against United in search of a result.
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