Sunday, 22 February 2015

Arsenal Move Up To Third After A Good Weekend

Champions League qualification is nothing new to Arsenal under Arsene Wenger and with their hopes of winning the league gone it's their target yet again this season. They've been gradually getting closer and closer to the top four and the results from this weekend have finally seen them climb to third. Arsenal did their bit by beating Crystal Palace on Saturday and the two teams directly above them were beaten to see them move up two places.

The battle for third and fourth places has five teams involved in it and Arsenal managed to steal a march on three of the other four this weekend. While they were beating Palace on Saturday United were losing away to Swansea and Arsenal moved above them. Things got even better on Sunday when Spurs could only draw at home to West Ham and Southampton lost at home to Liverpool to enable Arsenal to hold on to that third spot.

In the greater scheme of things I think it might have been far better for Arsenal if Southampton had managed to take a point off Liverpool. Arsenal are only three points ahead of Liverpool and Liverpool are on a very good run at the moment and closing quickly on the top four. They're unbeaten in 10 league games and seem to have found some real defensive strength to spur them on.

The points dropped by Spurs sees them fall back to seventh and Arsenal are now four points ahead of their local rivals. When they lost to Spurs a couple of weeks ago they fell behind them and back to sixth and things weren't looking too good. Since then Arsenal have just about managed a couple of 2-1 wins against teams at the wrong end of the table and those six points were very welcome as those around them slipped up. 

Getting back to that game against Palace it was a real nerve jangling finish to the game with Palace scoring in added time and then hitting the post right at the death. Arsenal had looked comfortable in the first half as they scored twice and Palace didn't manage an attempt on target. After the break Palace picked things up and put Arsenal under some real pressure, but Alexis Sanchez missed a great chance to finish them off on the break.

Palace put both of Arsenal's full backs under some real pressure and Calum Chambers found it very hard to cope with Yannick Bolasie when he came on for Palace just before the hour mark. The state of the pitch didn't help and Palace's work rate never dropped from first minute to last either. The important thing for Arsenal was the result though and the three precious points they won proved to be very important by Sunday night.

Arsenal!'s away form hadn't been good in the last couple of months despite the win at City and Palace looked to put them under the kind of pressure Spurs did a couple of weeks ago. To be fair to Palace they were more than a little unlucky to get nothing from the game and they will stay well clear of the relegation zone if they continue to play like that. Arsenal's defensive record away from home isn't good and they again invited too much pressure on their defence against Palace.

They have only five away league games left this season of the 12 games left to play and they will have to defend an awful lot better in those five games to make sure they finish in the top four. The tactic which worked so well against City just isn't working well enough against teams who play with the tempo Palace had and who are prepared to get plenty of crosses into the Arsenal box. Arsenal have to get hold of the ball more often away from home and not depend only on hitting teams on the break.

At the same time their home form has dramatically improved and they have won their last nine home games in a row in all competitions. That's a very nice statistic to have with the home leg of their Champions League round of 16 game against Monaco coming up on Wednesday night. Monaco have an excellent defensive record this season, but they won't have faced too many teams with the attacking options Arsenal possess.

After a slow start to their season Monaco are in the top four in the French league and have the best defensive record in that league. They only conceded one goal in their six Champions League group games and look like they will be very hard to break down. On a positive note for Arsenal though Monaco only scored four goals in their group games and have only managed 26 goals in their 25 league games. 

Arsenal could have had a tougher draw though and they have a real chance of getting into the quarter finals. There's still plenty to play for this season and the next few weeks will decide if Arsenal continue to have trophies to play for. They face six games in three weeks with that FA Cup quarter final at United in there as well as the two legs against Monaco and three league games. It's going to be a hectic three weeks for Arsenal and their fate for the season will be a lot clearer after the last of those six games in Monaco on March 17th.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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