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Arsenal: From relegation fears to European hopes

FOOTBALL By BBC | January 4th 2021
Football - Premier League - West Bromwich Albion v Arsenal - The Hawthorns, West Bromwich, Britain - January 2, 2021. Arsenal's Alexandre Lacazette celebrates scoring their fourth goal. [Pool via REUTERS/Michael Regan]

It was only 11 days ago that West Brom manager Sam Allardyce said he considered Arsenal a relegation rival.

But after a week which Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta described as “crucial,” his side are now 12 points above the relegation zone and could be starting to look like European contenders once again.

When Allardyce took over at West Brom, the Gunners were in 15th place, four points off the bottom three with one victory in 10 Premier League games.

Now, following successive victories against Chelsea, Brighton and West Brom, they are 11th in the table and marching closer to the Champions League qualification spots.

“Everything looks much better,” Arteta said following Saturday night’s 4-0 win over the Baggies, while former defender Martin Keown asked: “Why can’t they start looking towards Europe again?”

Former Arsenal striker Ian Wright said the current side “lacked confidence” during their poor run, and Arteta urged his side to play without fear against West Brom.

He was rewarded as striker Alexandre Lacazette scored in his third successive league appearance - he had failed to score in the previous eight - Bukayo Saka, 19, was on the scoresheet again, Emile Smith Rowe, 20, was impressive and “fantastic” Kieran Tierney also picked up a goal and an assist.

“They had to keep believing in themselves but at the same time the manager took a lot of responsibility on himself in the way they were playing. They were playing with a lack of confidence. Wins are going to totally change that,” Wright told BBC Match of the Day.

“There are younger players coming in who are playing without fear.”

Arsenal's manager Mikel Arteta gestures to his players from the side lines during the English Premier League soccer match between West Bromwich Albion and Arsenal at the Hawthorns in Birmingham, England, Saturday, Jan. 2, 2021. [Michael Regan/ Pool via AP]

Arteta’s own verdict was also upbeat: “This is as close as it gets to what we want. This is an Arsenal team with the idea I want. There were certain moments when we were very close to that. The players had the handbrake off and you can see they are free to play.

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“There were moments when we were really good, both defensively and offensively. This is exactly what we want the players to do. The energy and the momentum is much more positive.”

“It is always tough to win away from home and we have done it in a really convincing way. It’s three in a row and we had talked about the importance of this week.”

And Keown agrees with Wright that the influx of youth in the team has lifted Arsenal.

“Now, with the kids coming in, there is a real core that they can look to the future with,” he told BT Sport. “I like the way they have reacted. There has been a lot of character and a lot of passion. The youngsters are leading the way for Arsenal.”

West Bromwich Albion's manager Sam Allardyce checks his watch during the English Premier League soccer match between West Bromwich Albion and Arsenal at the Hawthorns in Birmingham, England, Saturday, Jan. 2, 2021. [Tim Keeton/ Pool via AP]

Arteta also said the imminent return to fitness of Ghana midfielder Thomas Partey, who has missed the last six league games due to injury, would provide a huge boost.

“We’ve been missing him. He brings something different to the team. He’s a player with an enormous talent, but as well someone who can transform the team the way we want,” Arteta added.

“He is feeling good. He needs another two or three good sessions to see if he is 100% available to play. If that is the case, great news for us.”

Arsenal face Newcastle United in the FA Cup on Saturday.

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