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Arsenal’s advantage in top four race already clear with Champions League return in sight

Arsenal have put themselves into a favourable Premier League position after an important run of victories and they have one key advantage over their top four rivals

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Mikel Arteta defends Arsenal players after Claudio Ranieri accusation

There’s a strong argument that an Arsenal side of yesteryear would have folded instead of securing their third straight Premier League win.

Make no mistake, Mikel Arteta’s men deserved three points in their Spanish boss’ centurion game against a Watford side lacking in quality and ambition.

But offside frustration, an inspired Ben Foster and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s persisting penalty woes all could have derailed the momentum the Gunners now carry into the international break.

Gareth Southgate didn’t deem Ben White or Emile Smith Rowe ready for an England call up but they are the duo spearheading a mini-revival in North London.








Smith Rowe scored in his third straight league game
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Image:

Arsenal FC via Getty Images)



White stepped out of the back with conviction before the country’s most in-form attacker found the net once again.

Of course, Smith Rowe’s decisive finish was not without controversy and Claudio Ranieiri had every right to feel incensed after the Gunners failed to return the ball after it was cleared so Watford’s Ozan Tufan could receive treatment.

But Arsenal have a new ruthlessness about them and Arteta was unapologetic about his Italian counterpart’s grievances at full-time.

Should Ben White or Emile Smith Rowe have been in the England squad? Comment below



It was a sixth win in eight and Arteta has gone from the point of no return to realistic top four challengers.

Just over two months ago, the Gunners were bereft, depleted and defeated in a 5-0 lashing at Manchester City but there is now a much needed tenacity and edge to Arteta’s team.

Five Premier League managers have already been dismissed but the club’s board have been rewarded for holding their nerve and Arteta has found a settled side.





Arsenal fans have been around for plenty of false dawns but the initially unexpected hope of a top four finish can only be aided by their one advantage of their rivals; no European football.

Arteta is able to spend the weeks with a refreshed squad at London Colney implementing his methods for domestic action.

Missing out on European football for the first time in 25 years is somewhat proving a blessing for the Spaniard.

There are no distractions, and in reality, no excuses.








Arsenal have gone ahead of Manchester United with victory over Watford
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Image:

PA)



The extent of the positive Gunners’ impact of midweek inactivity is already being laid bare.

In games played after European matches, Arsenal have dropped just two points.

That contrasts with Manchester United and Tottenham’s eight, Leicester’s seven and West Ham’s six.

Arsenal’s direct rivals are rotating and perhaps struggling to find a balance but that isn’t such a concern for Arteta.

West Ham are flying on joint points with City but perhaps a European hangover will give boss David Moyes more of a selection headache come the knockout stages.




United are in a bottomless mire under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Tottenham need to rebuild with serial-winner Antonio Conte.

There is no suggestion or expectation that Arteta and his young squad can usurp the three strongest teams in Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool, who all boast elite managers.

But there should be a real belief that the Gunners can push for a Champions League finish should Arteta keep his players fit and firing.


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