Arsenals fighting spirit gives Wenger hope of Great Escape

Publish Date : 2021-04-03


Arsenals fighting spirit gives Wenger hope of Great Escape

For most European clubs, qualifying for the Champions League is a reason for great celebration.

For Arsene Wenger, if his Arsenal team can pull that off for a 16th successive season, then it will represent something of a 'Great Escape' -- and strong déjà vu from the last campaign.

Saturday's 2-1 victory at West Brom lifted the London side up into the fourth and final qualifying place in England's Premier League, raising hopes among fans that they might yet again be watching top European football in 2013-14.



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London rivals Chelsea can reclaim that coveted position with victory at home to Sunderland on Sunday -- and even go third if Tottenham lose against sixth-placed Everton.

And with runaway leaders Manchester United having all but sewn up a record-extending 20th title ahead of Monday's derby with second-placed champions City, the fight for minor placings is much more intriguing.

Read: Can Tottenham 'mind the gap?'

Failure to qualify will be a bitter blow for any one of the capital trio -- for Spurs after last season's heartbreak; for Chelsea's ruthless owner Roman Abramovich after yet more big-scale investment in the team; and for Wenger as it would raise the chances of his 17-year reign coming to an end.

Then there are the financial implications: just qualifying for the Champions League group stage this season was worth $11 million for each of the 32 teams, plus television money and a $1.3 million bonus for each match victory -- rising substantially until the final, where $13.5 million is on offer for next month's winner.

'It will be difficult and edgy until the end but the only thing I can say is that we are ready for a fight,' Wenger said after two goals from Tomas Rosicky put Arsenal ahead against eighth-placed West Brom before defender Per Mertesacker's sending-off led to a penalty by James Morrison.

'We now we have one target -- to win our games. Then we do not have to look at Tottenham or at Chelsea. If we lose our games, you have always to look at the results of the others.

'That doesn't work in our job. You have to focus on you, and you win the games.'

It happened last season when Tottenham blew a 10-point advantage to allow Arsenal into third place, and then missed out on the Champions League when fifth-placed Chelsea won the final in Munich.

Read: Di Canio - Reviled and revered

That gave Wenger a stay of execution, despite extending Arsenal's trophyless run to seven seasons, but this time the 63-year-old Frenchman has been under even more pressure after embarrassing exits to lower league sides in the domestic cup competitions and mixed EPL results.

His team went out of the Champions League at the last-16 stage against Bayern Munich on away goals, though a defiant victory in Germany raised morale after a 3-1 mauling in the home leg.

'We have shown two aspects of our game today,' Wenger said. 'One that was very in control and with technical quality, and one that is less known -- fighting spirit, a resolute attitude and battling qualities that reflect well the spirit we have in our side.

'I believe that since November we have been on a good run in the Premier League. We have made 22 points out of the last 27 but our target is to continue to do that until the end of the season.'

Read: Spurs fret over Bale blow

In Saturday's other results, Aston Villa moved out of the bottom three with a 3-1 win at Stoke, as Belgium striker Christian Benteke wrapped it up with his 15th league goal this season and 19th overall.

Reading stayed bottom on goal difference below Queens Park Rangers after losing 2-0 at home to new manager Nigel Adkins' former club Southampton -- who sacked him in January after a five-game unbeaten run.

Southampton climbed up to 11th place, seven points clear of the relegation zone, after a third successive win for new Argentine manager Mauricio Pochettino.

Ninth-placed Swansea came from behind to draw 2-2 with Norwich, as Spanish forward Michu scored his 17th league goal this season for the Welsh club before fellow striker Luke Moore earned a point.

For most European clubs, qualifying for the Champions League is a reason for great celebration. For Arsene Wenger, if his Arsenal team can pull that off for a 16th successive season, then it will represent something of a 'Great Escape' -- and strong déjà vu from the last campaign. Read: Can Tottenham 'mind the gap?' Failure to qualify will be a bitter blow for any one of the capital trio -- for Spurs after last season's heartbreak; for Chelsea's ruthless owner Roman Abramovich after yet more big-scale investment in the team; and for Wenger as it would raise the chances of his 17-year reign coming to an end. For Arsene Wenger, if his Arsenal team can pull that off for a 16th successive season, then it will represent something of a 'Great Escape' -- and strong déjà vu from the last campaign.

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