Arsenal players and fans celebrate a win

Arsenal show steel to overcome the Irons and keep top four destiny in their own hands

Arsenal tightened their grip on fourth place with an impressive win at West Ham. Their fate is in their hands and winning ugly is a great sign.

Sunday’s victory over West Ham was Arsenal’s 20th in the Premier League this season; the third-most in the division. Mikel Arteta said following the conclusion of the match that the Gunners won “ugly” – and that they did just that.

It wasn’t pretty, but leaving east London with all three points was the only thing that mattered. Winning without playing particularly well is a sign of a good team, and despite the lows this season has had, Arsenal are a good team who are exceeding expectations to have Champions League football in their sights after matchday 34.

Bringing continental football back to the Emirates was the bare minimum expected from Arteta’s side after back-to-back eighth-place finishes. Following Sunday’s win, Europa League qualification is the worst-case scenario for the Gunners, which could perhaps be enough for the club’s hierarchy to offer the Spanish manager a new contract with his current deal expiring at the end of next season.

Arsenal scored from two of their nine corners against West Ham, taking advantage of the Irons’ reshuffled defence as well as the absence of Tomas Soucek – who came off the bench with 13 minutes remaining. Rob Holding’s first-ever Premier League goal came in the first half before Gabriel’s fourth this season won it for the north Londoners.

It’s a breath of fresh air to see previous Achilles’ heels become a strength for Arsenal under Arteta. Set-pieces, both offensively and defensively, have become a real asset thanks to the Spaniard and his coaching staff. Showing steel and grit is not something that has been associated with the Gunners since the end of the Invincibles era, however, they are slowly but surely fighting off that narrative, and doing so with a young and hungry squad.

Takehiro Tomiyasu’s return to the starting XI was huge. The Japan international limped off after 78 minutes, which is bad news. Cedric Soares has been solid in his absence but is not who the 99.9 per cent of Arsenal fans want to see start in right-back. Thankfully Arteta said after the game that Tomiyasu is fine, so I’m fine.

Prior to the match, I said that it was a game that Arsenal had no right to lose with West Ham very likely to rest their star players ahead of Thursday’s crunch Europa League tie against Eintracht Frankfurt. However, Declan Rice and Jarrod Bowen both started, much to my surprise. Michail Antonio and the aforementioned Soucek were benched, which is a testament to Antonio’s importance to his team after being left out of the starting XI for last week’s loss to Chelsea as well as Sunday’s game against Arsenal.

Tottenham won on Sunday afternoon to put the pressure on Arsenal; in previous campaigns that could have made this team crumble, but they rose to the challenge. The top-four race is well and truly alive. The north London derby on May 12 has the potential to be the biggest in history. It’s essentially a one-off match to determine who plays in Europe’s prestige competition in 2022/23.

With Leeds coming to the Emirates next week and Liverpool hosting Tottenham, the gap could be five points come May 12. In this instance, a draw for Arsenal in the NLD would almost be as precious as a win.

Do they have the bottle to finish the job? Sunday’s gritty win against a top-seven team shows that they do. The evidence is there that Arsenal have turned a corner under Arteta and have the mentality to get over that line. But this is Arsenal Football Club, and we love to make things as torturous as possible for the fans.

READ MORE: Is it time for Arsenal to move on from Kieran Tierney?

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