Blog

Arsenal's defining moment: The Gunners' Champions League fate is just 90 minutes away

Arsenal now know they can secure a top four finish and a return to the Champions League by winning Thursday's North London Derby at Tottenham (Author: Gardener)

The Gunners' Champions LeagueArsenal is a game away. Win at Tottenham on Thursday and it's done, they will be back in the Champions League for the first time since 2017. It looked like they missed their big chance when they suffered three straight defeats in April, but a fabulous run of four straight wins has revived a season that seemed on the brink of collapse. Mikel Arteta's side went into Sunday's game against Leeds knowing that a win would put them four points clear of Tottenham ahead of this week's crucial derby in north London. "I've seen games like this in this league," said Arteta after the win. “We really gave everything, forward without hesitation and showed quality. We scored two goals, they go to 10 men and then you have to play another game. "I think we did our thing right but we didn't score the third goal and that was the killer. Arsenal just managed to manage those nerves in some frantic final moments at the Emirates Stadium, but if you thought those were strained wait until Thursday's game comes around. However, given the start of the season, it's remarkable where Arteta's side are now in position. There was talk of a relegation battle as they started the season with three straight defeats and advanced into the Premier League's first international break without having scored a goal. But they have since won 21 of their 31 league games and are now just 90 minutes from doom. Champions League football is just a game away and the fact that they could do the job at Tottenham of all places will only add to the drama this week. Thursday night's derby is quite simply the biggest game Arsenal have played in years. "As always, we want to prepare and attack for this game," said Arteta. I can't wait to play this game.” No one will be more aware of what Champions League football will mean for Arsenal than Arteta. As a player he was a regular in Europe's elite club competition for the Gunners but those days feel like a distant memory in north London. Bringing Arsenal back to the top of European football as a manager will be a huge achievement for the Spaniard after such disappointing years for the club. Arteta has constantly told fans to "trust the process" since he replaced Unai Emery and that process would take a monumental shot in the arm should Champions League football return. It would put Arsenal in a much stronger position when it comes to fending off interest in star players with, for example, contract talks looming with Bukayo Saka this summer. It will be much easier to convince the England star that he could fulfill his ambitions at Arsenal should they be in the Champions League. The financial boost would also be huge, allowing the Gunners to be much more aggressive in the transfer market ahead of next season. "We don't have to explain the importance of the game," Arteta said, referring to Thursday night's clash at Tottenham. “We now have an opportunity to do it against them and all our spirit and energy will be on that. It's been done all season.” Arsenal have always enjoyed historic triumphs in the home country of their bitter rivals. They won the Premier League title at White Hart Lane in 1971 and repeated the trick in 2004 when Arsene Wenger's Invincibles sealed their historic Premier League crown. The title may not be at stake this time but it's impossible to downplay the importance of this young Arsenal side finally ending the club's five-year absence from the Champions League. Reclaiming a place in Europe's elite has sometimes felt like a million miles away in recent years, but now it's just 90 minutes.

Read

Arsenal's defining moment: The Gunners' Champions League fate is just 90 minutes away

Arsenal now know they can secure a top four finish and a return to the Champions League by winning Thursday's North London Derby at Tottenham (Author: Gardener)

The Gunners' Champions LeagueArsenal is a game away. Win at Tottenham on Thursday and it's done, they will be back in the Champions League for the first time since 2017. It looked like they missed their big chance when they suffered three straight defeats in April, but a fabulous run of four straight wins has revived a season that seemed on the brink of collapse. Mikel Arteta's side went into Sunday's game against Leeds knowing that a win would put them four points clear of Tottenham ahead of this week's crucial derby in north London. "I've seen games like this in this league," said Arteta after the win. “We really gave everything, forward without hesitation and showed quality. We scored two goals, they go to 10 men and then you have to play another game. "I think we did our thing right but we didn't score the third goal and that was the killer. Arsenal just managed to manage those nerves in some frantic final moments at the Emirates Stadium, but if you thought those were strained wait until Thursday's game comes around. However, given the start of the season, it's remarkable where Arteta's side are now in position. There was talk of a relegation battle as they started the season with three straight defeats and advanced into the Premier League's first international break without having scored a goal. But they have since won 21 of their 31 league games and are now just 90 minutes from doom. Champions League football is just a game away and the fact that they could do the job at Tottenham of all places will only add to the drama this week. Thursday night's derby is quite simply the biggest game Arsenal have played in years. "As always, we want to prepare and attack for this game," said Arteta. I can't wait to play this game.” No one will be more aware of what Champions League football will mean for Arsenal than Arteta. As a player he was a regular in Europe's elite club competition for the Gunners but those days feel like a distant memory in north London. Bringing Arsenal back to the top of European football as a manager will be a huge achievement for the Spaniard after such disappointing years for the club. Arteta has constantly told fans to "trust the process" since he replaced Unai Emery and that process would take a monumental shot in the arm should Champions League football return. It would put Arsenal in a much stronger position when it comes to fending off interest in star players with, for example, contract talks looming with Bukayo Saka this summer. It will be much easier to convince the England star that he could fulfill his ambitions at Arsenal should they be in the Champions League. The financial boost would also be huge, allowing the Gunners to be much more aggressive in the transfer market ahead of next season. "We don't have to explain the importance of the game," Arteta said, referring to Thursday night's clash at Tottenham. “We now have an opportunity to do it against them and all our spirit and energy will be on that. It's been done all season.” Arsenal have always enjoyed historic triumphs in the home country of their bitter rivals. They won the Premier League title at White Hart Lane in 1971 and repeated the trick in 2004 when Arsene Wenger's Invincibles sealed their historic Premier League crown. The title may not be at stake this time but it's impossible to downplay the importance of this young Arsenal side finally ending the club's five-year absence from the Champions League. Reclaiming a place in Europe's elite has sometimes felt like a million miles away in recent years, but now it's just 90 minutes.

Read

Man City take control, Nketiah Arsenal save, Maguire's mistake at Man Utd

Jurgen Klopp may be unhappy with Tottenham's game but Manchester City don't care and he's taken full advantage of it (Author: Gardener)

Man CityThe Score is Daniel Storey's weekly assessment of the performance of all 20 Premier League teams. Someone finally blinked in the title race and Jurgen Klopp wasn't happy with Tottenham's game. Manchester City won't care; they took advantage of it. Elsewhere, Leeds produced a shambolic 30 minutes when they could least afford it, while Manchester United did much the same throughout the game against Brighton. Many Arsenal fans long ago lost faith in Alexandre Lacazette and they lamented the club's decision to let Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang go on a free contract. Come in front of Eddie Nketiah, a young man who has been desperate for more time to impress in the Premier League and has done remarkably well under the circumstances. It's a lot harder than you think to get on a team and get along with those around you right away, even if you train together every day. Nketiah scored twice against Chelsea, effectively pulling Arsenal back into the top-four race. He then shone against Manchester United despite missing a couple of chances he probably should have ended. He was a little calmer against West Ham last weekend when Arsenal won by two set-pieces, but scored twice in the first ten minutes against former club Leeds on Sunday. Nketiah now has as many league goals as Lacazette in about 30 percent of the minutes. More importantly, he seems able to press with this side's attacking midfielders to threaten Arsenal after they lose the ball. At 22, it's no exaggeration to say he's bailed out his Arsenal career in recent weeks. Did Steven Gerrard get the second half of this season wrong? You can totally understand why a) he wanted to sign Philippe Coutinho when it became clear that the Brazilian was ready for the move and b) why he started Coutinho almost every game after his signing, but it's certainly true that the results von Villa didn't really improve with him in the team. They were 1.5 points per game under Gerrard before Coutinho came on and were 1.3 points per game when he started. More specifically, Coutinho's arrival has limited Emi Buendia's starts and also the responsibility for him to create anything. Buendia has started six league games since Coutinho's debut but five of those came alongside him. With the Brazilian demanding the ball and dominating Villa's game, Buendia was left as a secondary creative option. And in this scenario, having him on the side in the first place makes a lot less sense. After paying £40million for Buendia, a player they had been following for some time, it really made sense to reduce his creative role in favor of a loanee when there was no guarantee Coutinho would stay, and Buendia in that role doing pretty well yourself? Finally, on Saturday, Gerrard started without Coutinho in Buendia for the first time. Buendia, who was asked to be the chief creator, scored one goal, created another and was instrumental in the third. But Villa effectively signed a player for the one position they had already signed their club record for and a player capable of doing exactly the same successfully. For most of their promotion campaign, Thomas Frank fielded Brentford with a four-man defense that allowed them to field two fast wingers to support Ivan Toney as a centre-forward. Then, in April, they made the successful switch to a five-man defence, starting with a 5-0 away win at Preston. Frank then stuck to that five-man defense in the Premier League and not unreasonably believed that Brentford needed a little more defensive security. It largely worked: Brentford consolidated in the Premier League. Although Toney has often found himself a bit isolated, Brentford have the second-best defense in the bottom nine and have still managed to score more than a goal per game. But with Brentford safe, Frank has switched back to a four-man defense, turning that into a 4-3-3 instead of 4-5-1 in recent games. In the three games that Brentford have used this formation, they have beaten West Ham 2-0, Watford 2-1 and Southampton 3-0. On Saturday it was the pace of those wingers that caused Southampton the most problems. Although the centre-forward failed to score, he employed the centre-backs to create time and space for both his sides. It will be interesting to see if Frank sticks to the 4-3-3 next season and only uses the five-man defense away against higher-tier opponents who he can hit at the break. The only opponents he has used a back five against since mid-February are Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester United. They picked up five extra points in his debut season than the previous season, matched that total in his second and will again pick up between six and ten extra points in 2021-22. He believes the club's recruitment model over this period will allow them to develop players, sell the stars and then wisely reinvest the proceeds to improve the overall quality of the squad. The gradual improvement is great and Brighton fans love Potter dearly, but there's nothing like the odd outstanding performance to really hang your hat on. They beat Manchester City on the final day of last season, but City had already been confirmed as champions. That being said, they had gone 14 months without beating a so-called Big Six team at home or away. Since then, Brighton have won at Tottenham, won at Arsenal and torn Manchester United from start to finish on Saturday. Brighton had not won at home since Boxing Day but were tireless and brilliant. Moises Caicedo (whom we talked about here last week) was great; He was a £4.5million contract from Independiente del Valle and offers good reason to sell Yves Bissouma at a premium this summer. Burnley's improvement over the last few weeks (and this is by no means meant to disparage this work or suggest that their approach wasn't the right way) has been achieved by becoming a fair bit more expansive and open. They thought, not without reason, that Burnley is usually pretty good at defending (although that had fallen off badly). But that can leave you a bit torn apart, especially when neither of your two central midfielders (Jack Cork and Josh Brownhill in this case) is protecting defense and neither is playing well. In just six games this season, Burnley have conceded an expected goal total of 1.8 or more against a non-Big Six team. Two of those have come under interim management in their last five games. Burnley's stretch won them games against Southampton and Watford. But with that defeat potentially putting Burnley back in relegation, Jackson and Mee will have to think about it this week. A loss to Leeds on Wednesday and Tottenham's win over Arsenal on Thursday would separate the fourth, fifth and sixth-placed clubs by just two points, but Chelsea have a far better goal difference and would likely only need to beat either Watford or Leicester at home to secure Champions League football. But it's certainly true that the joy of Chelsea's season has waned over the past two months. Uncertainty over ownership (and there are still plenty of people who don't realize how sticky this could get if Roman Abramovich continues to put sticks between the spokes) clearly hasn't helped, but Thomas Tuchel seems to have lost a little control about his team. Chelsea have won four of their last ten games in all competitions and lost four. One of those wins saw them eliminated from the Champions League. "I have to look at it again, but it was a lack of discipline and execution of the game plan throughout a half and we're being punished for that," said Tuchel after the game, who was visibly unhappy with many of his older players. "At half-time I reminded the team to stick to the plan in a more disciplined manner, we did that and we led 2-0 and risked too much again. We challenged big chances and then you lose confidence and you let your opponents smell something is possible when it's absolutely unnecessary.” And for all the brilliance of last season, which culminated in that Champions League final win, this was it a season with lower yields. Don't forget that Chelsea were widely touted as potential champions in August. They're on course for 73 points and fourth place. They parted ways with Maurizio Sarri after he had 72 points and third place. Two weeks ago, after Palace lost their FA Cup semi-final to Chelsea, this column urged them to try and end their league season as strong as possible. No flip-flops here - Palace were at this point on course to finish on exactly the same score as last season under Roy Hodgson. In the three games since - two wins and a draw - we've seen some of Palace's most expansive football games, not always with full reward. It's important they played in disarray against two struggling sides and one Southampton side, but still: Palace had more than five shots on target in two of those games (and five in the other). They only did that nine times all season. On Saturday, Vieira included Eberechi Eze, Michael Olise and Wilfried Zaha in the same starting XI for the first time in the Premier League. Zaha's future is uncertain (doesn't that seem to happen every summer?) and his 13 league goals from a non-central striker will be very difficult to replace but in Eze and Olise you have the future of this club. If Conor Gallagher isn't at Selhurst Park next season, they'll have to build on pace in a lot of areas. He was the subject of the Everton section last week, but there's no harm in continuing to praise Jordan Pickford after he finally swept Everton from the side in a big win that saw Everton once again as his side's best player along with the defeats of Leeds and Burnley Relegation probabilities increases to the relegation possibilities. During Everton's last four positives, victories against Manchester United and Chelsea and four points from two games against Leicester, Pickford has been sensational. Everton have allowed their opponents an overall xG of 5.4 in these games. They were partially saved by poor finishing (Harvey Barnes' header on Sunday being the best example) and Pickford's excellence. You can give Leeds an iota for their performance in the second half when they really caused Arsenal problems despite having a man down on the pitch, but the first 30 minutes was probably the worst half hour of football this season by any Premier League -Teams not already relegated. Count the mistakes: the careless start despite the obvious importance of the game, the defense for the first goal and the lack of improvement for the second, the ball didn't stick forward, Luke Ayling's dismal decision to fly into a challenge that was a certain red card, Raphinha's pathetic arguments, which could actually end with the dismissal. There are ways to deal with frustration; Leeds' reactions to their adversity suggest they are barely able to handle the pressure. Many Leeds supporters will lament Jesse Marsch, although they certainly went down with Marcelo Bielsa. There's a certain logic to that: It's Marsch's job to prepare the team and they looked badly undercooked in the first quarter of the game. The Leeds boardroom knew this season was going to be more difficult than the last. Instead, Leeds bought Dan James and tried to play him as a striker and left-back at Junior Firpo, who had been struggling to settle in. Then, when injuries struck, the players had to operate out of position because there simply wasn't any other option for the first team to step in. On Sunday, Leeds Under-23s suffered relegation on the final day, mainly because most of the best players are now with the senior side. With Leicester conceding two more goals from set pieces (one against Roma, one against Everton) one of the problems is that Kasper Schmeichel is too reluctant to come and try to win the ball? But then he retreats to his own gate, although the cross is very close to its place. Abraham touched the ball five yards from Schmeichel's goal, so the massive contact didn't give the goalkeeper a chance. Schmeichel could not have come and claimed the Everton corner but by the time the first header comes he has retreated to his own goal and actually has one foot over the goal line. That makes jumping more difficult and results in his save pushing the ball just two yards from his own goal where Mason Holgate has an easy time. This is clearly not all on Schmeichel - it would be nice to see Leicester defenders actually tag their players and win headers. But I wonder if that positioning actually exacerbates Leicester's set-piece problems. It's never easy for managers to speak up straight after the game, especially when there has been such a disappointing final result. "I'm sorry, I'm the wrong person to ask about [Spurs' defence] because I don't like that type of football," said Klopp. I think they are world class and I think they should do more for the game. "It's a game against Liverpool, they have 36 percent possession. World-class players who block all balls. No one is asking Klopp to change the way he plays, but there is obvious condescension in those words. First of all, Spurs hardly played like Atletico Madrid. They did block a lot of balls - these days they'll throw you in jail if you say you want to defend well - but they didn't resort to Simeone-style dark arts. And despite all the complaints about their defense and possession, Tottenham picked up the pressure and had as many shots on target as Liverpool. They also had about the same expected number of goals and should have won the game with Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg's late header half-pass half-shot. Klopp was clearly frustrated, but he needs to know that teams are probably seeing their best shot at resisting rather than bowing to this rampant attack. If that means asking “world-class” players to deal with half-chances instead of being supported by overworked full-backs and central midfielders, then so be it. The best solution is the one that offers you the highest chance of success, and Antonio Conte has nothing to be ashamed of. Plus, it's hardly like Conte has earned a reputation as a grisly dark arts trainer. His Chelsea side scored 85 goals in 2016/17 (more than Klopp's Liverpool) and his Inter side were the second-highest goalscorer in Serie A in both seasons there (both times behind a frankly outrageously funny Atalanta). And his Tottenham side have scored three or more goals in 13 of their 33 games in charge. Most of us assumed that Manchester City would have to win every game to the end in this title race, but Liverpool's surprise point loss to Tottenham (it says a lot about the level of these two teams that points losses against anyone come as a surprise) rather allowed it City to ease Madrid's agony before they'd even played. Who knows if it would have been different against Newcastle, more nervous if Liverpool had won. Instead, they strolled in the sun, won the game early and then capped it with two goals in the final three minutes to put them four goals clear of Liverpool and three points. I'm not sure that will be as important as Martin Tyler was keen to reiterate - if City lose a game it would certainly allow Liverpool to overtake that goal advantage but it's certainly relevant. Raheem Sterling is still a presenter and a finisher (I still find it incredible that he's only started 22 league games this season). Bernardo Silva and Riyad Mahrez were rested throughout and Phil Foden only played a crucial role in two goals. They want to make up for the disappointment in the Champions League with a fourth league title in five years. It should be an obvious statement, but many Manchester United supporters certainly seem to disagree: Can we finally conclude that Harry Maguire isn't/wasn't the problem with United's shambolic defence? There's no doubt he's not at all in shape at club level but United's continued misery without him at the side, coupled with his form internationally, suggests we have a broken environment, not a broken player. United have a winning record of 47 per cent with Maguire in their team this season and have won 29 per cent of their games without him. They also put in one of the club's most embarrassing defensive displays in a long, long time against Brighton, albeit with good competition from this season alone. Alex Telles' header and Victor Lindelof's terrible attempt to block for the first goal, Raphael Varane's mishandling for Danny Welbeck's chance, the large space granted to Leandro Trossard for the second goal (and more defenders turning their backs on him), Pascal Gross somehow finds more space in the middle of the box (and Varane sells again), Varane's ludicrous attempt to get out and let Welbeck run after him for the fourth - we could go on. Ralf Rangnick rightly called it his worst performance of his tenure, but the lack of pride and professionalism from a group of players looking to end the season and clearly having little intention of salvaging anything positive from this season is deeply problematic. Good luck Erik ten Hag; you will need it. Some things don't change: Newcastle have lost their last 13 league games away at Manchester City, conceding 46 goals. When their owners dream of becoming part of English football's elite, there's nothing like being pumped away from home, at the country's second-wealthiest club, to show just how much of a long-term process that will be. Newcastle's season has come to an end, although the visiting fans may be asking for an improvement in the soft defense shown. Manchester City's season isn't up and they have a better XI than Newcastle at every position. But if Eddie Howe uses these recent games to determine where his priorities lie in the transfer market, he'll probably need at least a left-back, a centre-back, a central midfielder, another forward, a right winger and, to find out, Allan Saint-Maximin can thrive with better options around them. Now give Kieran Trippier and Callum Wilson minutes to get fit and rotate the team to assess the fringe players. We've said that repeatedly this season, but it's hard to explain why Dean Smith was so keen to return to management so quickly by taking a job that seemed impossible. Norwich were relegated ahead of the weekend but it was still a terrible day. They faced a West Ham team who must have been down with 10 men after 70 minutes of play on Thursday night and yet were completely outplayed and hammered. Smith was clearly appointed to do more to get Norwich back on its feet (never watched) but that only underscores the oddness of his decision again. He must now try to overtake a squad that has twice shown they are not good enough for Premier League football. The psychological effects of a descent are certainly amplified when it happens a second time. If I had done an excellent job at Aston Villa, this one – or at least such an attractive job – would have come to mind. He may even have landed a Premier League job in the summer or early next season. Instead he falls into the Championship and is tasked with doing what Daniel Farke did by picking up Norwich as champions. This felt like an important day for Ralph Hasenhüttl. Not only were Southampton angered by the defeat at Brentford - a theme of their season - but the traveling support chanted that their manager should be sacked in the closing minutes of the game. If there's one thing fans understandably hate, it's following their team at great expense and hassle from home to watch a team they believe is a lot less about the outcome of the Game takes care of them. Since the beginning of March alone, Southampton have lost 4-0 at Aston Villa, 2-0 at Burnley and 3-0 at Brentford. It's a manager's job to take care of that, and Hasenhuttl doesn't have it. But then it's not a particularly good team. Nathan Redmond and Stuart Armstrong are fickle wingers, Armando Broja has faded badly, Adam Armstrong just hasn't worked and Jan Bednarek has been actively losing weight over the last 18 months. Southampton are not safe yet (although Leeds' woes suggest they will be fine) but they really need a change of mood in the summer if they are to avoid mingling with the promoted clubs. If that means moving out of Hasenhüttl, then enticing someone better to jump in without significant investment is a mighty difficult task. It sums up that very odd Tottenham season in which they pursued a series of managers before finally having to appoint Nuno Espirito Santo, sacking him after 17 games, appointing Antonio Conte and then listening to him threaten over the difficulties Getting players to go do what he wanted them to end the season with eight points from their four unbeaten games against Liverpool and Manchester City. In other words, Spurs have picked up more league points against the top two than against Southampton, Burnley, Brighton and Crystal Palace combined. A top-four spot is out of their reach even if they win the north London derby on Thursday night. Had they managed to beat Burnley at home, Southampton home or away, Everton away, Brighton at home or Wolves at home, they would be favorites for Champions League football next season. Since losing to Burnley in February, only Liverpool and Manchester City have picked up more points per game than they have in the Premier League. If Conte had joined last summer, they would certainly have finished in the top four. Just another "what could have been" but also a good reason to be optimistic about next season if he stays. "It's a privilege to be a Premier League player, coach or manager," Roy Hodgson said ahead of Watford's trip to Crystal Palace. The players have to realize that. We have a lot of messages for the players, but they often fall on deaf ears." Ben Foster repeated roughly the same message after the game: "We have too many players who like to put it in for an hour, 70 minutes but then probably fall off and let it go happily in the last 20 minutes. When you are a team like us, the minimum is to give everything you have. You can give up the ability a bit and accept that you might not have the quality of some players, but you have to make an effort.” Watford's culture of high turnover of players and managers is so well established that it's clear is a deliberate strategy, but is there a risk that it can create an environment where these players don't feel connected to the club and are therefore not quite as emotionally interested in staying up? It's only a theory (and it's very seldom anything but unconscious, although theory carries weight) but of the current 80 longest-serving players in the Premier League only one was in Watford's starting XI on Saturday ( Craig Cathcart). Will Ismaila Sarr, Emmanuel Dennis, Moussa Sissoko and Edo Kayembe still be at the club next season? A sorely disappointing trip to Frankfurt and a European dream that ended just as West Ham supporters began to believe in it. West Ham know that a place in the top six would mean automatic entry into the Europa League group stage, while seventh would still mean European football with the Conference League (although they would have to play a qualifying round). David Moyes had probably already decided to play with a strong side against Norwich (he did so for practically the entire Europa League season) but that decision will have been made easy by Manchester United's shambolic defeat by Brighton. This not only left West Ham six points behind United with two games in hand, but also dashed any hopes that United could beat West Ham on goal difference. Victory in Norwich was mildly feverish given Thursday's events but also gives West Ham a very good chance of reaching the top seven even with a game against Manchester City ahead. If they lose that they will have to beat Brighton on the final day while United lose to Crystal Palace. It's barely beyond reason. Chiquinho would certainly have to wait for his chance at Molineux. Before Saturday he had only played 47 minutes in the Premier League this season. It's hard enough for veteran players to fit into a new team in a new country when they hit mid-season; It is even more difficult for a young player who is leaving his home country for the first time. Not only has he assisted in both of Wolves' goals at Stamford Bridge, he's also the club's leading assist provider in the Premier League this season despite playing just 68 minutes. Expect more of the same next season.

Read

How Arsenal's trophy was won and lost in the closest title races

Chelsea were crowned WSL winners after a 4-2 win over Man Utd at Kingsmeadow; Arsenal won 2-0 at West Ham but finished second, a point behind; Emma Hayes' side won their third consecutive title, a new WSL record for consecutive wins (Author: Gardener)

ChelseaAfter Chelsea defended the WSL title with a 4-2 win over Man Utd on the final day, we look back at where the trophy was won and lost in a thrilling race to the end. It's been a long nine months since Arsenal raised eyebrows with an opening-day win over the reigning champions at the Emirates Stadium, as new Gunners boss Jonas Eidevall announced his arrival in style and his celebrations at the full-time whistle were enough to anger some of the Chelsea backroom teams. That extra bite has lived throughout the season, with a respectful but fiercely contested title race almost ending by the final day when Chelsea beat Man Utd 4-2 to clinch their third straight title by a point to win on Arsenal. After losing to Arsenal on the opening day of the league season, Chelsea have since won 18 of their 21 games. Despite being beaten by Reading in December, Emma Hayes' side were in relentless form as the heat began to mount in the title race, winning their last nine league games straight after a 0-0 draw with Arsenal at Kingsmeadow in February. They have sometimes dug deep to find victory and created some memorable scenes when, in March, they scored a 1-0 win over Aston Villa through Sam Kerr's 92nd-minute goal, leaving the title race in their own hands . The last day was no different. They were 2-1 down at half-time against Man Utd and needed two stunning goals from Kerr - along with Guro riding - to secure their third straight WSL title. Even almost an hour with 10 players against Tottenham last month, when goalkeeper Ann-Katrin Berger was sent off, couldn't stop her from beating her old rival 3-1 and continuing her title fight. "In the crisis my team does really well, over the past few years there have rarely been times when we have had a crisis and I thought that was an amazing, amazing display of courage, confidence, conviction, cohesion, camaraderie, all the things that cannot be underestimated. ' Hayes said after the game. Under their leadership there have not been many crises at Kingsmeadow and they have always kept their cool - they edged out Manchester City by a point last season and this time meet Arsenal in a similarly close race. Fast-forward to September, however, and things weren't looking so rosy after that opening-day defeat at Arsenal... The Champions League had an impact at both ends of the season - Chelsea reached the 2020/21 final, a week after the last WSL game of the season lost to Barcelona. They then returned for an FA Cup fifth round win over Everton before a number of players traveled to Tokyo to compete in the Olympics. Of course, Arsenal were also in the fifth round and had a number of players representing their countries but playing a lot fewer games during the season after missing out on European qualification. That season, the Gunners had played three hard-fought Champions League qualifiers before beating Chelsea in the opening weekend, giving them a lead over the Blues who would hold them until March. Arsenal midfielder Kim Little told Sky Sports in December: "Right after the summer and the Olympics we had a lot of players away but a bit differently than most other teams, we came straight back into the game for Champions League qualification. So we were able to find momentum and performance early in the season. We started very well, especially in the WSL and then went into the Champions League and FA Cup games. Then of course because there are so many games we didn't play as well as we would have liked compared to the August, September, October period." Chelsea needed a little more time to settle in as the squad seemed after one busy summer to gel again, arguably also with fatigue and the absence of Covid-19.They were also kicked out of Europe on goal difference in the group stage as they hammered 4-0 in their last game at Wolfsburg, being knocked out by the Germans: “A few days before we had two players stuck with covid." If you're in a team environment you know it's spreading like wildfire through the squad... It's right through the game at the moment. Arsenal, meanwhile, were still in the K at the end of March The sheer mileage involved in the physical and mental strain on Eidevall's side, Sky Sports' Karen Carney added: "The Champions League could be a factor at the end of the season. Chelsea went out early, they could focus on the league. “Arsenal were still there and playing against a real top opponent and had to focus on that. While the Gunners pushed Chelsea to the end - they were top of the table at half-time on the last day - Arsenal's woes were plain to see in Eidevall's first year in charge, although the Gunners are the league's top scorers with 65 goals and have conceded one less as Chelsea, they have narrowly missed in big games over the years, losing eight points over the course of the season to teams currently in the top five - including the two Manchester clubs. The element of surprise played a part in their early success when they won three against Chelsea in the opening weeks of the season and Manchester City scored for five, as they have since scored just eight goals in six games against top-five opponents, or 16 in eight games all season. Compare that to Chelsea, who lost just five points against top five teams. Just two of those after that first-day defeat Essen for Arsenal while they scored 22 goals in eight games against their rivals. This allowed the Blues to suffer that shock defeat at Reading and even draw against Brighton while still emerging victorious in the title race. But perhaps Arsenal's biggest downfall was a surprise 2-0 defeat by relegated Birmingham in their first game after the winter break – the Gunners' only defeat of the league season. But poor defensive play meant the Blues clinched all three points and former Arsenal forward Kelly Smith believes the defeat defined the season. She told Sky Sports: "Arsenal were at the top of the league for most of the season... They've had such a fantastic season but they just fell short of the Birmingham result as they lost 2-0 and they were expected to win, that result could have changed the outcome of the season.” Despite beating West Ham 2-0 on the final day, the title race was finally out of their hands. After 182 days at the top of the WSL, Arsenal had to settle for second place again, Eidevall told the BBC: "It feels very empty right now. I'm very proud of the players, how they've handled the situation." If you get 55 points you know you can win. You can feel the excitement throughout the game. You love it and it's great to see how the players have reacted under the pressure. We have to keep believing in this and our game in improve next season."

Read

Nketiah outlines how he fought for Arsenal's chance he craved but sidestepped future questions

The soon-to-be-signed striker was handed another brace on Sunday, bringing Arsenal closer to UCL - but will he still be there for it? (Author: Gardener)

ArsenalEddie Nketiah has reiterated that every player wants chances but dodged a question about his future at Arsenal after his latest brace. Nketiah's future should lie away from Arsenal not too long ago as the end of his contract nears. But a recent return to prominence in Mikel Arteta's starting line-ups has sparked fresh speculation about what will come next. However, Arteta has given him more chances in recent weeks - and Nketiah has delivered. Nketiah then drew gaps against Manchester United and West Ham. But he was under goals again in Sunday's 2-1 win over Leeds United. Nketiah punished the club he was once on loan with, scoring twice within the first 10 minutes. Thanks to the three points, Arsenal are now just one win away from a place in the top four. Nketiah finally played his part and is happy to be successful as a starter. "It's wonderful. It's always nice to score but I think it's three big points like I said before the game," Nketiah told Sky Sports. "We've worked hard and we want it for the fans do."It's great to be able to get the three points and it brings us closer to our goal. "Every player wants to play and have the opportunities.I've worked hard all season to make sure I'm ready when I get my chance."I thank my teammates for helping me when I play and do what I want. The interview then took a turn when Nketiah was asked if the atmosphere at Emirates Stadium could convince him to do so to sign a new contract with the club. But the all-time England Under-21 goalscorer ignored the contract part of the question and instead simply praised the Arsenal crowd. "It's a great atmosphere here and I think it was outstanding throughout the season,” he replied. “(I) really feel the connection between the players and the fans. "It's great to be involved in this and we're doing everything we can to make them happier and achieve our goal." Nketiah has scored nine goals in 25 games for Arsenal this season, including four of 18 in the Premier League. His overall record for the club is 22 goals from 89 games. READ MORE: Arteta explains why Arsenal were getting 'nervous' despite being in control of Leeds

Read

Neville makes north London derby prediction and wants to dig up Arsenal move

Gary Neville backs Spurs to beat Arsenal and believes the derby will be particularly sharp following the Gunners' controversial postponement. (Author: Gardener)

NevilleGary Neville backs Tottenham to beat Arsenal and believes the north London derby will be particularly sharp after the Gunners postponed the game in controversial circumstances earlier this year - a decision he disagreed with. Mikel Arteta's side can take fourth place - and Champions League football - on Thursday night if they win their away trip against Spurs, with Arsenal currently four points clear of their rivals. The two teams were due to face each other in January but the game was postponed despite the Gunners having just one Covid case, with a combination of outgoing loans, injuries and Afcon participation leaving Arteta with a badly depleted squad. There has been much criticism of the postponement - not least from Spurs and manager Antonio Conte - and Neville believes it will make the long-overdue derby particularly hostile, while believing Tottenham will come out on top in the competition. Speaking on the Gary Neville Podcast, he said: "I think it's going to be a really tasty game on Thursday night, not just because it's a north London derby and they're playing for Champions League places. "But the way that game was canceled earlier in the year - even I wasn't too happy with it! "I wasn't comfortable with that, I was making the game, I came down on Saturday and I just felt like it was... not great. Look, Arsenal have to lose, but Tottenham on Thursday night will be difficult for Arsenal. If they walk away with a draw or a win, they did very well with the feeling that they will be against them in this stadium. "It's a big game, I'm looking forward to it. I like Tottenham on Thursday nights. Praising Tottenham's performance against Liverpool, Neville continued: "Tottenham have had to endure a lot of pressure defensively, they've done well defensively but Harry Kane and Son Heung-min - that ground to counterattack is the most difficult to counterattack. I think there's less space there than [at the Etihad]. “I know they did well [at the Etihad] but Anfield are so tight and Virgil van Dijk and Ibrahima Konate are so fast and so strong that you're like: How are Kane and Son doing against them? "They're a joy anyway, they've been outstanding for a number of seasons now but that's the toughest away game to play I think Anfield and it's the toughest game to counter-attack in because of the pitch is so little that it feels like midfield where Kane picked it up and had to break it. 'But Tottenham have connected through Kane with these wide players, he's held it up enough, he's pulled away and rolled people just to get the pass away or turned around and get that pass away and he's doing it absolutely beautifully. MORE: Mikel Arteta explains why Nicolas Pepe's Arsenal assistant was upset and gives Ben White an update. For more stories like this, visit our sports page.

Read

Youthful exuberance served Arsenal well but almost cost them against Leeds

Arsenal are well placed for a top four thanks in large part to a youth revolution but the kids are still learning how to keep their cool. (Author: Gardener)

LeedsLONDON - Sunday's 2-1 win over Leeds United was a advertisement for Arsenal's precocious and precarious youth. The Gunners took another important step towards Champions League qualification with a crucial win, initially the result of their momentum and effort to capitalize on an appalling first half by their opponents, before giving way to an unnecessarily nervous final in which they almost blew two goals lead against 10 men. The catalyst for Arsenal's revival this season came from a group of young players who seized their opportunity to try to redefine modern Arsenal: Bukayo Saka is the poster boy but includes Martin Odegaard, Emile Smith Rowe and Aaron Ramsdale those who did contributed that notion beyond initial expectations. Eddie Nketiah and Gabriel Martinelli have joined the party in recent weeks, most notably the former, who scored both goals here and continues to make his case for Arsenal to break the deadlock in his contract situation with his current deal due to expire in a matter of weeks. But this is a time of the season when talent and temperament must be balanced with the prizes in sight. Leeds improved after half-time - they could hardly have been worse - but what should have been a leisurely stroll in the sun from early May turned into a tense final after Diego Llorente converted a clever set piece into the half in the 66th minute Deficit. Substitute Nicolas Pepe failed to raise his head to see an open goal with goalkeeper Illan Meslier in a frantic breakup, a moment that served as a metaphor for the lack of game management that nearly cost them dearly. Nevertheless, they got themselves over the line, with Mohamed Elneny providing a particularly important presence in the last 20 minutes, limiting Leeds on counterattacks and allowing Arsenal to play as much in the opposition half as possible. They go into the north London derby at Tottenham Hotspur on Thursday knowing that a win would secure a top-four result. But a defeat would give them a point advantage and with Spurs facing Burnley a day before Arsenal's move to Newcastle United the Gunners could start fifth on Tyneside. These are the stakes at this point in the season. "If you look at the other games you see a lot [nerve treatment] because now is the defining moment where one goal can change a whole season and that's playing out in the back of your mind," said Mikel Arteta after the game. "We did well in many phases, but we had to score the third goal and we had the chances to do it. Then the accident happened when we conceded a set piece and then some nerves needed treatment.” It's hard to overstate how poor Leeds were in the first 45 minutes. They gift-wrapped the opening goal for Nketiah as Meslier laboriously processed a back pass from Luke Ayling. Nketiah quickly completed it - in a way Alexandre Lacazette probably wouldn't have done - to attack and score with a move inside the six-yard box. This was just the start of a remarkable afternoon for Ayling, his 500th appearance of his career, as he received a hot time from Martinelli, who hopped past him to put on a second while Nketiah, unmarked 12 yards away, had one second within ten minutes swept home. Leeds were shambolic and Ayling compounded their misery by throwing two legs into a reckless and idiotic challenge on Martinelli. Ayling is likely to be handed a three-game ban and therefore his season could be over. Raphinha could have easily followed him as he angrily protested the decision, but despite staying on the pitch Leeds ended half-time with more red cards (one) than shots (zero). They almost snagged a point in added time when Junior Firpo headed a long free-kick forward, but Rodrigo could only look a tame header straight at Ramsdale. Arsenal persevered and went into Thursday's derby knowing that the pressure is on Spurs in the race for fourth place. Young players can usually do that, but they also have to keep their nerve.

Read

Nketiah might not be *the* answer for Arsenal, but he can condense Arteta's "trial."

Arsenal are still in need of a new striker but Nketiah has been excellent and his departure would create unnecessary conundrum for Arteta. (Author: Gardener)

ArtetaArsenal are still in need of a new striker but Eddie Nketiah has been excellent again and his departure would unnecessarily prolong Mikel Arteta's Arsenal trial. Nketiah scores a couple of goals and suddenly becomes the answer for Arsenal, having previously shown no real signs of being up to the task. We're not saying it's cut and dry like that; Arsenal need to sign a new striker whether Nketiah stays or leaves. Arsenal are said to have made numerous extension offers, with the striker's desire to leave, in his own words, because he wants to "play football and play regularly". He has now started five Premier League games on the go and played a key role as Arsenal have asserted their authority in the Champions League qualifying race. Illan Meslier really shouldn't have given Nketiah the opportunity, but when the Leeds keeper dallyed, the Arsenal striker chased him down and attacked him in the first set. He just looks like a very decent Premier League striker and although we're often told how much potential he has, this is the first time we've really had a chance to see it. Largely due to what was seen as a misstep of not signing a striker in January, combined with Alexandre Lacazette's woes in front of goal, Nketiah is Arsenal's most important man for the first time in his career. The question for him, Arteta and the club is whether this run of form is a parting gift or the start of something bigger. Arsenal will continue to target a new striker in the summer but especially with the squad expanding to a far greater extent next season due to European commitments - whether in the Champions League or Europa League - Arteta needs at least one in each position two quality options, hence her desire to keep Nketiah in the club. He would be naïve to think he'll be able to keep a starting spot unchallenged but want a fair shot and not be immediately benched when Darwin Nunez, Lautaro Martinez or whoever arrives in the summer. Should he continue to perform well and score goals early next season, he should keep his place in the team just like he has done this season. Should Nketiah leave on a free transfer, Arsenal will be forced to rely on two forwards as the Emirates continue to rebuild, while they still need reinforcements in most other areas of the squad. How much would they have to spend to replace a forward of Nketiah's quality? At least £20m which, on top of the cash needed for a first choice, would likely mean an outlay of £70m-100m to fix a position. That could mean they can't sign a new full-back or spend as much on a new central midfielder. Essentially, Nketiah's departure will likely leave her in one area or another of the roster and prolong Arteta's "trial." Nketiah might not be the answer for Arteta and Arsenal but his departure would raise a mystery they could do without. The Nketiah article might not be *the* answer for Arsenal, but it can condense Arteta's 'trial', which first appeared on Football365.com.

Read

Eddie Nketiah leads Arsenal to the brink of top-four while 10-man Leeds fall into the relegation zone

Arsenal 2-1 Leeds: Luke Ayling's red card seemed to end White hopes before Diego Llorente's second-half strike scared the Gunners (Author: Gardener)

Eddie NketiahThis time it was sparked by the relentless run of Eddie Nketiah within just five minutes and made permanent by a first-half surrender by Leeds of such amazing conviction as if they intended to write their own relegation obituary. After Tottenham dropped points against Liverpool yesterday, there should have been some pressure on Mikel Arteta's side, which they have sometimes found difficult to shoulder in the past. But on an idyllic spring afternoon, there was lift, a sense of possibility and optimism in the Emirates, helped by Arteta's signing of a new three-year contract, and the first hour of that 2-1 win often felt like a demonstration of his vision. Nketiah is still looking to end his long association with Arsenal this summer, but his two goals – taking advantage of Ilan Meslier's disastrous hesitation and tapping in his feeble foot from just under a yard before a clever first finish – had crumbled Leeds' pale resistance within the opening 10 minutes. From then on, this should have been just a practice in increasing goal difference, especially after Luke Ayling's senseless act of self-destruction even before half an hour had elapsed when the Leeds captain was sent off for an unnecessary two-footed failure at the corner flag. But as Arsenal, a four-point lead over Tottenham in the top-four race had to be turned into reality after it was bestowed on them. They dominated the ball, missed countless chances to extend their lead and a sense of fear seemed to trickle out from the crowd onto the pitch after Diego Llorente turned a corner in the 66th minute. Nketiah shuts down Ilan Meslier for opener (Reuters) Jesse Marsch could well point to the catalog of injuries that have deprived him of four key players, but the way Martin Odegaard has been given the freedom to command the game and the space , which was granted to Martinelli and Bukayo Saka on the wings, was either tactical suicide or indicated a total disregard for the coach's orders. Their snappy start was only made more concerning by the high stakes at hand, with a recently resurgent Everton also playing Leicester at the same time, and their 2-1 win leaves Leeds in the last three behind Burnley on goal difference. What Marsch and Leeds couldn't take credit for, however, was the kind of disastrous one-off error that allowed Arsenal to take the lead within five minutes and defuse any tension at the stadium. Ayling's back pass wasn't the best but would not have posed a threat had Meslier decided to clear the ball at the first opportunity. Instead, the keeper hesitated, took a loose touch and Nketiah was able to put the ball in the net. It was thanks to the striker's determined desire for pressure that has upheld Arteta's decision to keep Alexandre Lacazette on the bench in recent weeks, although the 22-year-old's celebrations against the club where he was previously on loan for six months have been muted was. Luke Ayling puts two feet up Gabriel Martinelli (Reuters) Nketiah was back in the lead just five minutes later after Martinelli spun past three Leeds players on the left wing. He waited patiently at the penalty spot while an unfortunate defense was scattered and almost out of sight as the striker swept the Brazilian's cutback into the far corner with his weaker left foot. It was all too easy and Ayling's pointless challenge with Martinelli trapped in the corner - upgraded to a red card after a VAR check - certainly looked like the nail in the coffin. Lewis Bate (right) congratulates Diego Llorente after scoring (EPA) However, the word seamless doesn't seem to exist in Arsenal's dictionary and they were punished for failing to extend their lead on either side at half-time, with Martinelli always threatening , but lacks a concise finish. With a quarter of the game remaining, Leeds won their first corner; Junior Firpo flicked at Llorente at the far post and his shot sneaked between Aaron Ramsdale and his near post. The nervousness was palpable as Leeds regained semblance of confidence and they threatened at the break afterwards, even if they missed the final ball to startle an Arsenal defense improved by Takehiro Tomiyasu's move to left-back, leaving the chaotic Nuno Tavares was kept glued to the bank's security. Nervousness still reigned until the final whistle and Arsenal was increasingly losing heart and confidence, almost waving excitement until Ramsdale's stoppage-time save from a tame Rodrigo header ensured they would hold the three points.

Read

Gary Neville makes north London derby prediction and takes Arsenal postponement in stride

The Gunners had just one Covid case when the game was abandoned in January. (Author: Gardener)

Gary NevilleThe Gunners had just one Covid case when the game was originally abandoned (Pictures: Getty) Gary Neville backs Tottenham to beat Arsenal and believes the north London derby will be particularly sharp after the Gunners lost the game earlier had been postponed under controversial circumstances - a decision with which he did not agree. Mikel Arteta's side can take fourth place - and Champions League football - on Thursday night if they win their away trip against Spurs, with Arsenal currently four points clear of their rivals. The two teams were due to face each other in January but the game was postponed despite the Gunners having just one Covid case, with a combination of outgoing loans, injuries and Afcon participation leaving Arteta with a badly depleted squad. Arsenal's win over Leeds put them four points clear of Spurs (Image: Getty) There has been much criticism of the postponement - not least from Spurs and manager Antonio Conte - and Neville believes it will make the long-overdue derby particularly hostile . while he believes Tottenham will come out on top in the competition. Speaking on the Gary Neville Podcast, he said: "I think it's going to be a really tasty game on Thursday night, not just because it's a north London derby and they're playing for Champions League places. "But the way that game was canceled earlier in the year - even I wasn't too happy with it! "I wasn't comfortable with that, I was making the game, I came down on Saturday and I just felt like it was... not great. Look, Arsenal have to lose, but Tottenham on Thursday night will be difficult for Arsenal. If they walk away with a draw or a win, they did very well with the feeling that they will be against them in this stadium. I like Tottenham on Thursday nights. Praising Tottenham's performance against Liverpool, Neville continued: "Tottenham have had to endure a lot of pressure defensively, they've done well defensively but Harry Kane and Son Heung-min - that ground to counterattack is the most difficult to counterattack. Spurs put in a strong performance in the 1-1 draw with Liverpool (Picture: Getty) "I know they did well [at Etihad] but Anfield is so tight and Virgil van Dijk and Ibrahima Konate are so fast and stuff strong You're thinking, how do Kane and Son do against them? "They're a joy anyway, they've been outstanding for a number of seasons now but that's the toughest away game to play I think Anfield and it's the toughest game to counter-attack in because of the pitch is so little that it feels like midfield where Kane picked it up and had to break it. 'But Tottenham have connected through Kane with these wide players, he's held it up enough, he's pulled away and rolled people just to get the pass away or turned around and get that pass away and he's doing it absolutely beautifully. For more stories like this, visit our sports page.

Read