By the end of the next matchday, Arsenal could quite easily be back in the top four, but will they come out on top in the race for the final Champions League place this season?
While Arsenal have mostly been written off by pundits, with Gary Neville recently claiming sixth is about right, the club are just one point off the Champions League spots. Manchester United have edged ahead after a favourable run of games and London rivals Chelsea are currently in freefall, so The Gunners sit between them in fifth.
Southampton provide a prime opportunity for Unai Emery’s men, and they go into the game as 2/5 favourites to do the business with most UK bookmakers. Meanwhile, Manchester United face Liverpool, and Chelsea have the Premier League weekend off for their League Cup final. A victory would likely mean reclaiming fourth spot as a result.
That would put the club right back in contention and perhaps even shift the current betting odds slightly in their favour. Most sports betting sites are offering odds of around 5/2 to finish in the top four, behind Chelsea who are currently priced at 5/4 with bookie Betfair.
Emery has a favourable February to prepare for, with Bournemouth the only other fixture of the month in the league, while Mauricio Sarri’s men have a month that sees them face Manchester City (again), Manchester United and Tottenham, as well as playing two Europa League games against Malmo.
After Chelsea’s defeat to the Champions, a resurgent United and Spurs could ultimately allow Arsenal to gain points on The Blues in February, leading into a huge March for the club, which could make or break their season.
The Gunners are eight points ahead of where they were last season, but convincing defeats to Liverpool and Manchester City are a cause for concern, which could prove their downfall if the upcoming matches against Tottenham and Manchester United go similarly.
Emery believes there’s every chance the club can still finish within the top four, but improving defensively is key. He said ahead of the Huddersfield game, “We can make the top four, but we know it’s not easy. We are strong at home, but I think we need to do better away. We started very well, changing our mentality to get more points away. But now we need to recover our confidence and performance.
“Also we know defensively we need to do better. We tried to play with three and two centre-backs. Be passionate, be calm but above all work.”
Work is most certainly going to be the order of the day. Next month becomes much tougher for the Gunners, with a trip to Wembley to face Spurs in the opening week, before a huge game against Manchester United.
Wolves follow, who are also playing well against the top clubs, having earned a draw away at the Emirates earlier in the season.
The next six weeks are certainly going to be telling. Denis Suarez will have to hit the ground running and Emery simply has to find a solution to the club’s defensive woes.
It’s certainly far from over, and with three teams fighting for the final top four place, big results against Spurs and Manchester United are absolutely key in ensuring Champions League football for next season.