Fallers in the race for fourth

Posted by Sam Limbert

Santi Cazorla and Nacho Monreal celebrate the Arsenal winnerPA PhotosSanti Cazorla and Nacho Monreal celebrate the Arsenal winner

Arsenal's 2-1 win over Aston Villa came at the end of an extremely painful and testing week for the club. Two cup defeats simply had to be followed by three points in the league, not least because the solitary match next week just happens to be the North London derby.

- Mangan: Cazorla spares Szczesny's blushes
- Hughes: Another late goal breaks Villa hearts


The Gunners weren't overly fluent against Villa, there were plenty of nervous moments and some dodgy goalkeeping. However, a win was absolutely imperative to set the team up for a period that could arguably be more important than the previous horrendous one.

With Everton losing at Norwich City, Arsenal's 100% win record in the Premier League in February means that a gap is developing in the race for the top four. There is a five point gap to Everton in sixth from Arsenal in fifth, and even though they won on Saturday, West Brom's early season form has tailed off. It is increasingly looking like a straight fight between Arsenal and Spurs for the final Champions League spot. Chelsea may yet get dragged into it, however the result between Tottenham and Arsenal at White Hart Lane will undoubtedly go a long way to deciding who will be in Europe next season.

Understandably, there has been a lot of negativity about Arsenal in the last week. The wider questions about the cup defeats and about why the club are only fighting for fourth need to be asked. Although the team are at least in a position to achieve the bare minimum expected by supporters - Champions League football. If fans think the apocalypse arrived last week, they will quickly realise things can get worse should the team lose to Spurs next weekend and miss out on the top four.

Getting the negatives out of the way from Saturday, Wojciech Szczesny shouldn't have allowed Weimann's shot to squirm in and the defence were opened up far too easily by Aston Villa on the break. It is concerning considering Tottenham will have the pace of Gareth Bale when attacking the back four next week. Individually however, there were much improved performances across the pitch.

Santi Cazorla deservedly grabbed the headlines and it is great to see him returning to form again. There has been a lot of pressure on the Spaniard to be Arsenal's main creator in midfield in his first season in English football. That has been alleviated recently by playing in a wider position, and in the long run that slight breather from the pressure of playing in the centre could be beneficial for Arsenal.

He scored the winner at Sunderland and finished well against Aston Villa, showing the value of a midfielder timing his run towards the box and being able to shoot. Often he has been at the centre of moves, and hasn't been in the position to finish. Whilst defensively the side aren't as balanced with Cazorla not always being in the pivotal role, it does open up the possibility for him to potentially score more.

If Olivier Giroud can rediscover his scoring touch, and Lukas Podolski actually busts a gut to score rather than watching the ball go past him in the six yard box as he did against Villa, Arsenal should have the fire power to score enough in the rest of the season.

The defence is still the main concern. I'm still not sure as to whether Arsene Wenger knows what his first choice centre back pairing is, and there are concerns over Szczesny, but there is a week to work on those issues before the North London derby. If they aren't sorted, Arsenal could be the latest to fall in the fourth place race.

ESPN Conversations