Expect more twists and turns as Arsenal win at Chelsea puts Tottenham clash back in spotlight

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Expect more twists and turns as Arsenal win at Chelsea puts Tottenham clash back in spotlight
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All eyes are on the North London derby after Arsenal reignited their top four bid by hitting four past calamitous Chelsea.

That clash at the home of Tottenham on May 12 will be circled in the diaries of Mikel Arteta and Antonio Conte as a potential decider in the race for the final Champions League qualifying spot.

But the truth is no one can predict where either side will be when that date comes around.

How typical of Arsenal to lose to Crystal Palace, Brighton and Southampton before smashing Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

And still, who would dare bet on them to get three points against crisis-ridden Manchester United on Saturday – even after Ralf Rangnick’s side were humbled by Liverpool this week?

Spurs, meanwhile, are still licking their wounds after the shock defeat to Brighton at the weekend.

If the race for the Premier League is airtight because of the levels of perfection being reached by Manchester City and Liverpool, the battle for fourth feels like a case of failing upwards.

Three points separate Spurs, Arsenal and United – and it is safe to assume the fourth place spot will be passed around that trio of hopefuls a few more times yet in the last month of the season.

Last night’s 4-2 win at least suggested Arsenal will remain part of the conversation after ending such a wounding run that left them in danger of going from pole position to back of the grid.

It helped that Chelsea were so lamentably bad, gifting their visitors three goals and three points.

But credit must also go to Arteta’s side for seizing their opportunities when they came and avoiding capitulation when twice pulled back by Chelsea in the first half.

Eddie Nketiah capitalised on woeful errors in either half to strike – first pouncing on Andreas Christensen’s sloppy back-pass and then darting in to exploit Malang Sarr’s errant touch in the box.

In between, Emile Smith Rowe finished smartly and Bukayo Saka scored from the spot in stoppage time after taking his first penalty since missing in the Euro 2020 final shoot-out.

 (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
(Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

Chelsea had twice levelled in the first-half through Timo Werner and Cesar Azpilicueta – who had a heated exchange with a fan after the final whistle – but they got what they deserved for such an abject defensive display.

It is now 11 goals conceded in three straight home defeats, which left a livid Thomas Tuchel at a loss to explain their ragged performance.

“They have to face the reality that it’s impossible to win matches if you make this amount of mistakes of this calibre,” he said. “It’s simply impossible.

“I don’t see it in any other matches, but I see it now in consecutive matches of our games and it has to stop.”

While Tuchel conducts his own inquest into his side’s form, Arteta is left to hope victory can see Arsenal rediscover the consistency that at one point made them favourites to finish fourth.

The bar feels low this season, which is why three teams that have proved to be so fallible are still in contention for Champions League qualification.

But Arsenal would be the unlikeliest of all to take that spot, not least because of a start to the campaign that saw them lose their opening three Premier League games.

Arteta’s work since has been commendable, with a clear vision appearing and a young squad buying into his methods.

Defeats have come in clutches. After that woeful start, there were three in four between mid-November and early December and their most recent losing run of four in five is what has undermined their top four pursuit.

Those spells have tended to be followed by strings of victories. They have put together runs of four or more wins in a row on four separate occasions this season.

Should they repeat that now, it would take them all the way up to the derby and that date with destiny with Spurs.

That is a big ask at the best of times, let alone when their next two games are against the teams directly below them in United and West Ham.

But this was the type of result to breathe new life into an inexperienced squad that did not look like it knew how to stop the bleeding.

“I said to them if you want to be playing Champions League football, you have to go these stadiums and beat top teams,” said Arteta. “Tonight they have done it and I’m really proud of them, but I’m more proud of how we’ve reacted as a group in the past weeks.

“That gives me more energy to be here.”

Whether it can be the start of a run that takes them all the way to the top four remains to be seen.

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