The Gunners ran riot in SW6 to rekindle their hopes of ending a multi-year exile from the Champions League – but their derby day delight will count for little if Mikel Arteta’s side are unable to follow their potent Stamford Bridge showing with another positive result against Manchester United on Saturday.
Just weeks ago, United were tipped to pip Arsenal to the post in the race for the final Champions League berth; their hopes are now all but done and dusted. And Arsenal can deliver the knockout blow to their old rivals to leave them on a collision course against Tottenham for that coveted final spot.
But if the Gunners are to do so, then they’ll need to rediscover the defensive steel that laid the foundation for their stunning run earlier in the season. Arteta’s men had surged into pole position for a top-four finish after losing just once in 11 games at the turn of the year. The North Londoners won nine matches in that flurry of fixtures, racking up six clean sheets and conceding just five times.
However, the defensive resilience that catapulted them into upper echelon of the league has deserted them in recent weeks. The Gunners have looked far more fragile at the back; even during their impressive win over Chelsea. Some smart recruitment from the club – who spent big money on the likes of Aaron Ramsdale and Ben White last summer – has helped Arsenal shore up this term, but time and time again they looked uncharacteristically vulnerable at the back against the Blues.
United’s legendary former manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, famously declared: “Attack wins you games, defence wins you titles.” And while Arsenal are currently nowhere near good enough to wrestle the Premier League crown from the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City, tightening up at the back over the final few games of the season should be enough to nudge them back into the Champions League.
It’s an area they’ll certainly be looking to improve upon against Manchester United – although Ralf Rangnick’s men have looked far from assured at the back themselves in recent weeks. Defensive stability has been pretty much non-existent at Old Trafford this term, but it could be the key to Arsenal taking another giant stride forward to their goals.
In truth, few would have been brave enough to back the Gunners in pipping United to a top-four finish this year after the latter finished second last season. Although he still has his critics, guiding Arsenal back into the Champions League would be a remarkable achievement for Arteta.
After leapfrogging United over the past 12 months, Arsenal are now on the cusp of achieving that commendable feat. Arteta and the Gunners can nudge even further ahead of United – in more ways than one – if they can rediscover the defensive solidity that they’d been lacking until this season.