Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal have one more thing to achieve to prove top four credentials

There’s only one thing left for Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal to achieve…in order to move to the next level.

That’s the level where you are considered genuine top-four contenders – as opposed to occasionally threatening to be part of that elite mix only to quickly slide backward to nothing more than pretender status.

Make no mistake, while the Gunners went fourth in the table for the first time in 18 months after beating West Ham in midweek and overtaking them in the process, their credentials to be in the hunt for Champions League qualification remain inconclusive.

Let’s be honest, would anyone really be shocked to see them come unstuck at Leeds this weekend – as happened at Everton earlier this month before the mini-revival of successive home wins.

‘Home’ being the operative word here – for Arsenal pretty much always batter inferior opposition at the Emirates.

Away from that relative fortress it is a wildly contrasting picture, however – another of the heavy hangovers left from the Arsene Wenger era which is still to be cured by Spanish coach Arteta, who is approaching two years in the hot-seat.

LONDON, ENGLAND – DECEMBER 11: Mikel Arteta, Manager of Arsenal reacts after the Premier League match between Arsenal and Southampton at Emirates Stadium on December 11, 2021 in London, England. (Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

When a characteristic, particularly one so detrimental, is engrained so deeply into a club’s psyche, it can take an awful long time to remove, repair and rebuild something solid and new. If ever. There are no guarantees.

Allied to this inability to win on their travels with any obviously regularity is Arsenal’s failure – anywhere – to beat adversity during an actual game.

If you’re struggling to recall Arteta’s men coming from behind in a Premier League game to claim three points that’s because this lot don’t do glorious comebacks. Not yet at any rate.

When asked about that alarming statistic towards the end of last season, Arteta conceded it was unacceptable and required addressing.

Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka celebrate a goal

Well, now that he has further demonstrated his ruthless, no-nonsense streak by banishing troublesome skipper Pierre-Emerik Aubameyang to the surplus-to-requirement category, it is down to the rest of his players to show they have the same mettle, backbone, desire and courage on the field.

Not just when smashing three past Southampton in style and then defeating an out-of-sorts Hammers outfit.

That’s good, of course. Yet producing an immediate reaction when events in a match conspire to leave you on the back-foot is a far more telling sign that there is an undeniable, unbreakable unity developing within a young, exciting dressing room.

All the great sides possess that knack of seizing victory from the jaws of defeat.

It’s one of those differences between the contenders and the pretenders.

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