Is Arsenal’s Top Four Status Under Threat?

With thirteen games left play in the Premier League, Arsenal sit in sixth position, one point behind Everton and four points behind their North London rivals Tottenham, who occupy both fourth, and the last Champions League qualification spot.[quote_right]“To put it frankly, we no longer have Robin Van Persie to drag the team over the finish line.”[/quote_right]

Without doubt, Arsenal fans will take some comfort from last season’s late qualification saga. A timely run of good form allowed The Gunners to claim third position on the very last day of the season, pipping their bitter rivals to the glory of Champions League football (due to Chelsea winning the Champions League itself).

One year on, as the final stretch of the campaign edges ever nearer, Arsenal are hoping to emulate themselves to once again claim fourth spot.

However, as most critics will point out, in comparison to last season, The Gunners are not as rich in terms of on-field quality. To put it frankly, we no longer have Robin Van Persie to drag the team over the finish line.

[title]Save Our Status[/title]

Despite their failings, Arsenal have managed to piece together a strong offensive outfit who are more than capable of making the final push. Lukas Podolski, Theo Walcott & Olivier Giroud have collectively scored 44 goals this season, and seem to be forming an excellent partnership going forward.[quote_left]“If it’s one thing Arsene knows how to do, it is to qualify for the Champions League.”[/quote_left]

The Gunners may be missing Robin Van Persie, but have instead gained another talisman in the shape of Jack Wilshere. The Englishman may not contribute much in terms of goals, but his penetrative dribbling and pure determination inspire regular wins for Arsenal.

These positives, accompanied by Santi Cazorla & the return of Abou Diaby, mean that Arsenal still fancy themselves to finish ahead of both Tottenham & Everton, despite both of them having good squads.

As bad as Arsenal’s current situation appears, one can’t help but take comfort in Arsene Wenger’s brilliant record of never finishing outside the top four, as displayed in the graph below. If it’s one thing Arsene knows how to do, it is to qualify for the Champions League.

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[title]Doing A Liverpool[/title]

By looking at the current Premier League table, it’s fair to say that Liverpool FC are yet again destined to finish outside the top four, as they sit hopelessly in seventh, nine points behind the pace. Their top four status has well and truly abandoned them - could Arsenal be in danger of following suit?

Having dropped out of the top four in the 2009/10 campaign, Liverpool are yet to reach their former status as a club who regularly qualify for the Champions League. Just last season, Liverpool finished their season in a lowly eighth position, their worst performance in almost ten years.

Finishing outside of the top four for one season doesn’t necessarily damn you to mediocrity for the following campaign, but it’s hard to see how Arsenal could recover from such a catastrophe. Having won no silverware in eight years, failing to qualify the Champions League would be a massive blow to the club financially and mentally. A Liverpool-esque decline would not be beyond us.

Stability: Arsenal have never finished outside of the top four under Wenger.

Of course, it is plausible that Arsenal could finish outside the top four for one season, and re-establish themselves a in the following campaign. Such an occurance isn’t impossible, but taking into account Arsenal’s lack of spending in the transfer market, and our recent habit of selling our best players, it’s a gamble the club simply cannot afford to take.

With the transfer window now shut, Arsenal, Everton & Tottenham can only look to their current players as well as their remaining fixtures to seal the illusive deal of Champions League football.

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[title]March Holds The Key[/title]

Arsenal are renowned for their nail-biting season finales. Just last season, with just seconds to go in the last game of the season, their fate was still undecided.[quote_right]“It’s not over until the fat lady sings - I just hope she has a strong stomach…”[/quote_right]

However, this season may have something different in store for Arsenal fans. In March, Arsenal take on Tottenham away, swiftly followed by Everton at home. Claiming six points from these two fixtures could land a killer blow to both the Lily-Whites & The Toffees. But failing to do so could just as easily send Arsenal into a decline of no return.

To make matters more interesting, these two ties are immediately followed by Arsenal’s second leg fixture against Bayern Munich in the Champions League. Beating the German giants could either give Arsenal the confidence needed to see out their season, or sap them of any belief whatsoever. Certainly, March holds the key.

It’s not over until the fat lady sings - but I just hope she has a strong stomach, because I suspect one hell of a rollercoaster ride before the finish line. Until then, Arsenal’s top four status hangs in the balance.

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