Belfast Telegraph

Forget glory, Arsenal at risk of losing out on top four

By Jack Pitt-Brooke

Arsene Wenger knew before Arsenal travelled down to Bournemouth on Tuesday night that it was a must-win game. The story of this season's Premier League, after last year's shock Leicester City triumph, is that the top six are not dropping points to the bottom 14 teams any more. No one can succeed this season while throwing away points in games like that.

"All the big teams are winning against the smaller teams," Wenger explained on Sunday night. "The only moment where the (big) teams drop points is when they play against each other, but that can change. We have to hang on, try to win and hope results turn in our favour."

That is why Tuesday's dramatic 3-3 draw at Dean Court, which felt more like a win, was in fact closer to a defeat. The standards being set in this year's Premier League mean that the big teams have no margin for error when it comes to beating smaller ones.

But while Arsenal and Manchester City can bemoan the fact that Chelsea are pulling far away into the distance, the reality of recent form is that both should be more worried about the teams behind them. Because for both Wenger and Pep Guardiola, their early-season title challenges are threatening to give way to long slogs for the top four.

Arsenal and City went into the season seeing Champions League qualification as a given but they are now facing the facts that Manchester United and Tottenham are hot on their heels.

United have the second-best winning streak in the country, having won their last six matches, their best record since April 2015.

Having looked dysfunctional in the first few months of Jose Mourinho, they have rediscovered that old knack of grinding out wins and clean sheets again. They are only going to get better.

Almost as surprising as that is the turnaround at Tottenham. Before last night's clash with Chelsea, they had won four straight in the league. They are playing their best football since March having rediscovered that physical power that took them so close to last year's title.

City are hoping that slow process of learning from Guardiola, and the arrival of Gabriel Jesus, will help to stabilise the team in the second half of the season. But they will need to improve fast, and find a balance between defending and attacking.

For City and Arsenal there is a new danger, not just missing out on the title, but on the Champions League altogether.

Belfast Telegraph

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