Arsenal show dogged determination in fight for fourth in Premier League
You have to go back to the 1997/98 season to find the last time that Arsenal did not feature in the Uefa Champions League.
Despite a decline that has not seen them win a trophy since 2005, and lose a number of their best players to rival clubs, Arsene Wenger's side have somehow dodged every bullet and finished in the top four of the English Premier League every year to continue their participation against Europe's elite.
This season, following the loss of Robin van Persie to Manchester United, had been earmarked as the year their luck ran out.
Logic says you cannot keep selling your best players and still achieve the same results.
Certainly Wenger's side have missed the Dutchman's goals, and even the emergence of Theo Walcott as a goal-scoring force has not completely compensated for the departure of Van Persie as they currently sit in fifth in the league, four points adrift of Tottenham Hotspur in fourth.
Saturday's 1-0 win at Sunderland hardly sounds remarkable, but in context was a huge result as they had to play the last 28 minutes with just 10 men after Carl Jenkinson was sent off for a second bookable offence.
Arsenal have not really garnered a reputation of late for being a side with a bulldog spirit, but they showed resolve and tenacity, assets they have shown on too few occasions in previous campaigns, to hold on and keep the pressure on Tottenham.
However, Arsenal's true time of reckoning comes next month between March 3 and March 9.
Tottenham away is followed by the visit of sixth-placed Everton. Win both of them, or at least draw with Tottenham, and a 16th successive year in the Champions League is a genuine possibility.
For all their problems Chelsea appear capable of picking up points when it matters and should take at least third place.
So, essentially it is Tottenham versus Arsenal for fourth place, with Everton an outsider.
It is going to be a tall order for Wenger as Tottenham are unbeaten in 10 league games and are showing no signs of slowing down, and they do not have the uncertainty they had last year when their former manager Harry Redknapp was being linked with the England job.
If Arsenal do end the season in the top four it will be the most impressive rabbit that Wenger has pulled out of a hat during his 17 years in the job.
Follow us @SprtNationalUAE
Published: February 11, 2013 04:00 AM