Arsenal had the opportunity to get back into the English Premier League top four on Tuesday, and managed to get it done in the friendly confines of Emirates Stadium with a 3-1 victory over West Ham United.
FT: Arsenal 3-1 West Ham. And the race for fourth place is on. Who's got the edge - Arsenal or Everton? pic.twitter.com/PEZ7jEcTeJ— Bleacher Report UK (@br_uk) April 15, 2014
Manager Arsene Wenger has to be feeling good as the Gunners edge in front of Everton for fourth place in the EPL table with 67 points. The triumph over the Irons also snapped Arsenal's four-match winless streak in the league. Following this pivotal showdown in Holloway, Wenger had plenty to say about how his side performed.
The Premier League's official Twitter account noted how Wenger was pleased with how his team handled adversity, falling behind early after a goal by West Ham's Matthew Jarvis in the 40th minute:
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger: "I'm pleased as we were under pressure to win and we were 1-0 down. I'm pleased with the mental response"— Premier League (@premierleague) April 15, 2014
Wenger had even more praise for Jarvis via Henry Winter of The Telegraph:
Lukas Podolski scored his first of two goals just minutes later, and Olivier Giroud made up for a miscue on a golden chance in the opening half by driving home the eventual winner in the 55th minute.
BBC Sport had the rest of Wenger's post-match reaction, where he discussed the Gunners' steady intensity, and how Arsenal must focus on controlling their own destiny, so to speak, rather than what other clubs are doing:
I think we built the victory tonight through consistency in our game, the vital thing tonight was to come back to 1-1 before half time. It was a hard-fought win and a very enjoyable win as we had to dig deep on Saturday.
Aaron Ramsey is a very important player for us, he has that power and that drive. He also surprises you with his vision in the final third. Everyone is under pressure to do well, the best thing to do is to focus on your own performances and see where that takes us.
Wenger went on to describe the club's performance under challenging circumstances and voiced his satisfaction with how his players stepped up:
We were under absolute pressure to win the game, on top of that it was a derby and after giving a lot on Saturday it was difficult. Maybe we could have scored more, I was satisfied with the mental response of the team tonight, the focus tonight of the team was outstanding.
We showed maturity not to panic when we went 1-0 down, I had to rest a number of players tonight but it was good that players like Kim Kallstrom managed to contribute tonight.
This is very reminiscent to how the Gunners sneaked inside the top four last season by one point over Tottenham Hotspur, and Wenger continues to do enough to keep his job secure. Now Arsenal have the inside track to get in the top four.
Part of what Wenger attributed his club's resolve to was the experience he had, per the Gunners' official Twitter account:
Wenger: "It was the oldest team I have [fielded] since I have been there, and I trusted the players. The experience helped" #AFCvWHU— Arsenal FC (@Arsenal) April 15, 2014
Meanwhile, West Ham continue to be in the middle of the league pack, sitting in 11th in the standings under boss Sam Allardyce, whose club hasn't seemed able to crack the top 10 since he took over in 2011.
Allardyce expressed his disappointment after a lapse on defence allowed Giroud to get deep into the box and put his right-footed strike between the legs of goalkeeper Adrian, per BBC Sport:
It was two errors on our part for their first two goals, at that stage we worked really hard to get 1-0 up and we worked hard throughout the game. But even after playing so well if you gift them two goals it's difficult to get a result.
The second half they scored from a long ball and the defending was pathetic on our account. There's no satisfaction at playing OK as football is about winning and getting results, we didn't do that tonight and all of our hard work was wasted. We knew that Arsenal had a lot of games and a lot of injuries lately and we took the pressure off them.
It's down to us why we lost the game and why we haven't got anything out of the game tonight.
But nothing should be taken away from the first touch Giroud had, which was good enough to beat two Irons defenders before he dribbled to the right and rifled home the winner from point-blank range. Wenger applauded Giroud's brilliance:
Wenger on Giroud's goal: "It was a perfect first touch... he used his upper body to make some space and he finished well" #AFCvWHU— Arsenal FC (@Arsenal) April 15, 2014
Qualifying for the 2014-15 UEFA Champions League rather than the Europa League and continuing their momentum in knocking off Hull City in the FA Cup final would make Arsenal's 2013-14 campaign rather successful.
However, Robert Lusetich of Fox Sports implies that it may be a blessing in disguise if the Gunners fall short of their goals:
Which club will finish in the EPL top four?
It remains to be seen whether the Gunners can mount more of a legitimate challenge for the EPL trophy in the future, but looking to what's more prominently in front of them, they have to be pleased with their battle back after being atop the Premier League table and slipping to fifth.
Injuries to key players such as Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere have hampered what looked like a promising run for the league's top prize. Nevertheless, Wenger and the Gunners have never made excuses, continuing to fight even as a shot for the trophy slipped away.
Credit Arsenal for hanging tough, but if they are healthy entering next season, there should be massive pressure on them to capitalize on their talent. Wenger will likely be pushed to be more aggressive in the transfer window and change his characteristic conservatism to push the Gunners over the top.