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Premier League review: Arsenal go fourth and prepare to multiply

In a game that surprisingly summed up the season so far, Arsenal have suddenly become clear favourites for fourth while Andre Villas-Boas teeters on the brink.

Robin van Persie delivers for jubilant Arsenal
Robin van Persie delivers for jubilant Arsenal
Image: PA

A POTENTIALLY DEFINING day in the race for fourth.

Because, after so much uncertainty and error, Arsenal somehow came away from Anfield with a victory. And that pretty much sums up their season so far. After what has been the club’s most traumatic campaign since 1994-95, they are suddenly clear favourites for fourth place and can even tilt at third.

Of course, in a season as oscillating and unpredictable as this, it’s dangerous to talk about anything with any degree of certainty. And yet, despite that, Arsenal’s 2-1 win over Liverpool conformed to so much of what we expected, defining the season in another way: Arsenal looked insecure, Luis Suarez dazzled without proving decisive, Liverpool failed to take their chances (including a penalty) but Robin van Persie emphatically took his.

Unless there’s a significant turnaround, Liverpool look too far off the pace to even challenge for fourth now while Arsenal appear to suddenly have a firm hold on it. Nor should it be forgotten that this was their third league win in a row.

But, while Wenger deserves credit for steadying the team after the traumatic cup defeats that punctuated those wins, it remains a more uncomfortable fact that Van Persie is papering over a lot of cracks. As good as Alexandre Song was today with his passing, for example, the feeling persists that the infrastructure of the team remains faulty.

Coming up, too, there is the troubling question about Van Persie’s contract. Ironically, though, he may almost single-handedly deliver the club to the Champions League position that prevents his exit.

Of course, Wenger’s situation has also been aided by the anxiety at Chelsea – not least the late 1-0 defeat at West Brom today in what was a woeful performance. Rumours now abound from Stamford Bridge that Roman Abramovich is considering sacking Andre Villas-Boas before the match against Napoli in order to give his club a fighting chance in the Champions League before attempting to secure fourth. It was exactly what the Russian did in 2008-09 with Felipe Scolari after all.

Whatever happens, Chelsea remain a team in transition and one that don’t currently look capable of achieving the required consistency to make fourth. Abramovich must decide whether that is down to the fact an old team is past it, the failures of his young manager or a mixture of both. The answer probably lies in the last option.

While the Champions League chase became much clearer, you still can’t really say the same about the bottom. Although the gap between 16th and 20th stretched to two points from one thanks to Wigan’s 2-0 home defeat to Swansea and QPR’s eventual 1-1 draw with Everton, it remains truly open with none of the five clubs looking good enough to pull away nor bad enough to be cast adrift.

In between those goals, David Dunn rescued a point for Blackburn Rovers after Charles N’Zogbia had given Aston Villa the lead at Ewood Park while Bolton were predictably beaten 2-0 by Manchester City.

That appears one of the few certainties this season: that the Manchester clubs will keep winning in a relentless title race… and now, possibly, that Arsenal will claim fourth.

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