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Can Arsenal Sustain Their Top Four Challenge This Season?

Jamie Casey for Bookies.com

Jamie Casey  | 6 mins

Can Arsenal Sustain Their Top Four Challenge This Season?

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A few weeks into the current Premier League season, few would have predicted that Arsenal would be in the position they now find themselves in. Saturday’s opponents Liverpool may be as short as 4/1 to win the title with new betting sites, but a win at Anfield would see Arsenal leapfrog Jurgen Klopp’s men in to fourth spot.

Despite opening the season with successive defeats to Brentford, Man City and Premier League leaders Chelsea, the Gunners are now 3/1 to finish in the Champions League qualification places and if they can come away from Liverpool with three points those odds will come in significantly.

And there’s good reason to back the Gunners this weekend too. They’ve won each of their last three games without conceding, having won three on the trot in the Premier League and haven’t tasted defeat since August.

Liverpool’s form has simultaneously dipped, with their first defeat of the season suffered last time out at West Ham, having also endured a disappointing draw with Brighton before that.


 


You could argue that the international break came at a good time for Liverpool and a bad time for Arsenal, who were building serious momentum, but former Gunners midfielder Emmanuel Petit believes Mikel Arteta’s squad have rediscovered their confidence and will be raring to get back into Premier League action.

“It was a very bad start but when you have to play City and Chelsea right at the beginning of the season when you still haven’t quite found the right balance in the team, it’s not easy and it can hit your confidence,” Petit said.

“Now they look much better and you can see that not only in the performances but also the results.

“Most importantly, Arteta looks to have found his preferred starting XI now. There’s been so much turnover and so many changes at the club, so it was always going to be difficult to evolve and find confidence.

“He’s been trying so long to find the right balance and the right tactics and it’s finally starting to come together and I’m happy to see that.”

Crucial Christmas Period

Petit has been impressed by goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale and has been impressed with Gabriel since his return from injury in September, but has warned Arsenal fans not to get too carried away as the Christmas period will be a true measure of their progress.

He said: “Ramsdale has shown what he is capable of and Gabriel is back now too. I think the goalkeeper, defenders and midfielders have all grown in confidence.

“At one stage, you could feel the fear in these players. They were missing personality on the pitch, but step-by-step they have recovered and that tells me that, mentally, they are much stronger now and they have quality.

“Even players like Saka are becoming leaders in this team, despite his young age.

“We will have a better idea of what this Arsenal team can achieve this season right after Christmas time. When you look at the schedule, they have very, very tough games and they’re going to have to show some real character.”


 


Petit believes Arteta is growing as a manager and has cited Arsenal’s lack of involvement in Europe this season as a contributing factor in him being better prepared for Premier League fixtures come the weekend.

“His body language now compared to August has changed so much,” said Petit. “You only have to look at his face to see it.

“You could see in his face in the first few weeks of the season that he was under a lot of pressure, he looked tired, annoyed and angry.

“Now, when I look at him, everything has changed. He’s a young manager but the way you show your emotions can have an impact on your players, especially young players like he has at Arsenal. But he’s improving as a manager and so are his players.

“The big thing for Arsenal this season is not playing in Europe, which means more time to recover and work towards the weekend. It’s a big chance for Arsenal to focus domestically and over the next five weeks or so we’ll see how much of a chance they have of competing for the top four.

“It will be very difficult because there’s a lot of competition.”

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Arsenal’s Attacking Threat

Petit is enjoying Arsenal’s attacking quartet of Emile Smith Rowe, Bukayo Saka, Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and admits their availability is pivotal to prolonging this period of good form.

He said: “I want to see Smith Rowe, Saka, Lacazette, and Aubameyang all continue to play together. For me, that’s the best quartet and key to their success.

“They have all been playing in the same side together and you can see them making the right decisions, working together and growing in confidence.

“So, I hope Arteta will stick with this and can avoid injuries.”

Speaking of Smith Rowe, he’s certainly the man of the moment at Arsenal. Before the international break, he had scored in three consecutive league games and he carried that form into his England career with his first goal for his country in only his second cap.


 


“I think he’s improving because of his character, humility and desire,” said Petit of Smith Rowe, who has excelled on the left for Arsenal but is seen as a classic number 10 player going forward.

“He’s got a lot of ambition and he has so much support from the crowd because he plays with love on the pitch.

“He has shown so many qualities and improvements, just like Saka did, and they are the two best examples from the academy right now and could be the future of England as well.

“If Smith-Rowe can continue to improve on his statistics in terms of goals and assists and maintain his personality then he can be Arsenal’s number 10 for some time, but he needs to stay focussed because he can go missing for 20 minutes here or there. But if he can do that then he has a big future.

“He reminds me sometimes of Paul Gascoigne when he has the ball at his feet and when he runs with it, he’s a natural player in his mind and in his feet.”

Smith Rowe is 5/1 with Bet365 to continue his scoring streak with a goal at Anfield this Saturday.

About the Author

Jamie Casey for Bookies.com
Jamie Casey
Jamie Casey, a sports writer with extensive experience in the sports betting industry, has contributed to such publications as RTÉ, Sky Sports, The Irish Post and Bleacher Report.