The Chalkboard: Arsenal take advantage in race for top four

Arsenal beat Manchester United 2-0 on Sunday to take pole position in the race to qualify for the top four.

Unai Emery’s men ended Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Premier League unbeaten run at the Emirates, with Granit Xhaka and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the scoresheet.

On the chalkboard

Arsenal came into the game on the back of a truly horrific European result. On Thursday, they travelled to France to face Rennes in the Europa League and were beaten 3-1 in a fevered atmosphere.

On Sunday, though, it was the Emirates that was rocking as the Gunners turned in a polished performance to down the Red Devils and place themselves in the box seat to qualify for Europe’s elite club competition.

Emery’s men are now two points clear of United in fourth and just one behind Tottenham Hotspur in third.

It would be remiss not to mention that Spurs, on the face of it, are best-placed to qualify for Europe. However, momentum is key, and they will surely be getting twitchy.

They were 10 points clear of Arsenal just a few weeks ago but they are now in real danger of being overhauled by their great rivals, particularly after their 2-1 defeat to Southampton on Saturday.

Emery set his side out perfectly against United, inviting Solskjaer’s men to attack, and telling his players to pick their moments to go forward.

Xhaka scored a strange long-range goal that will be giving David De Gea nightmares for weeks, before Aubameyang converted from the penalty spot after Alexandre Lacazette was adjudged to have been fouled in the box by Fred.

Per WhoScored, Arsenal had 46% possession, and were second in a number of departments – including dribbles, aerials won and tackles – but they were clinical, and United had no answer when they fell behind.

With eight games remaining, there are sure to be twists and turns in the race to finish in the top four. The north London club, though, appear well set. They have momentum, they are just one point behind Spurs and are two ahead of United and three clear of Chelsea.

Momentum the key

It would be a startling success for Emery if he guides Arsenal to Champions League qualification.

They have endured a difficult season, struggling for fluency at times, but he appears to have the nous to get the Gunners over the line.

Finishing ahead of both Chelsea and United would be astonishing, not least because of the latter’s form since Solskjaer took over.

There is also the prospect of overhauling Spurs, which no longer appears to be a pipe dream.

A third-placed finish – the best of the rest behind Manchester City and Liverpool – would raise Emery’s stock considerably.

With their current form, they look well on course to make that dream a reality.