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Arteta to Arsenal too much of a leap


Arsenal must guard against complacency against Sunderland

Three wins in seven days have gone some way to restoring a little of Arsenal's lustre. To have come through a home game with Manchester United and away trips to Southampton and Stoke with maximum points is a great return for any team -- let alone one whose form had been as patchy as Arsenal's.

Saturday's 4-1 thumping of Stoke, at a ground that has so often proven a major obstacle, was particularly impressive. And yet for all the enjoyment of it, it's hard not to wonder where these kind of performances were earlier in the season.

If you compare and contrast that showing with the dismal displays away at West Brom and Crystal Palace it's hard to reconcile the vast difference. Arsene Wenger may talk about belief and confidence being in short supply for those games, but they also lacked commitment and application, qualities which should exist outside the boundaries of mental strength and character.

Thus, despite an excellent week, the Gunners' hopes of finishing in the top four remain out of their hands. Instead of feasting from the top table of European football next season, they look likely to compete in the all-you-can-eat buffet of the Europa League.

Securing a Champions League spot is not impossible, but it requires one of Liverpool or Manchester City to crack under the pressure and drop unlikely points in their final games. How Wenger must rue six league defeats between Jan. 31 and April 30.

Going down to Chelsea, Liverpool and Spurs is one thing, but losing to Watford, West Brom and Crystal Palace caused significant damage to their season. Those are games they should not be losing, and in some ways the renewed focus of the week brings them into sharp focus.

It's why, as Arsenal prepare to face Sunderland at the Emirates on Tuesday night, the manager must guard against complacency. His players showed great focus against tough opposition in tough circumstances, but that has to continue.

Just because Sunderland have been dreadful under David Moyes, and have been relegated to the Championship, doesn't mean they'll roll over. They may well be dreadful against Arsenal, but they have nothing to lose, so it's a game that demands nothing less than 100 percent from Wenger's men.

Arsenal have enjoyed an upturn in form but their top four hopes remain slim.

With an FA Cup final on the horizon, and in the wake of that punishing schedule, it's likely the Frenchman will make changes to his team. It's a chance to rest some weary legs, and show some caution because any kind of injury now will prove fatal to a player's chance of making the team for Wembley.

It wouldn't be a surprise to see him rest Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil. The star duo combined so well at Stoke, shades of early season Arsenal when there was real fluency and verve to their attacking football, but with Everton on Sunday and Chelsea in the FA Cup final, he could well take the opportunity to give them a little breather.

Mohamed Elneny, Theo Walcott, Lucas Perez and Alex Iwobi -- who have been sidelined over the last few weeks -- should come into to contention for the Sunderland game. While their chances of forcing their way into Wenger's thinking for the final are relatively slim, they will add some freshness to the team, and they'll be keen to provide their manager with a little reminder of what they can contribute.

It's not a nothing end of season game, because there is still the outside chance of a top four finish, but that it's out of their hands, and that they're reliant on somebody doing them a favour, is evidence that this Premier League season has been a big disappointment after they spent the best part of £90 million last summer.

Football is nothing if not surprising, but the reality is that two wins would see Arsenal end this campaign with four more points than their second placed finish last season, yet few would argue that progress has been made.

Andrew Mangan is one of ESPN FC's Arsenal bloggers. You can follow him on Twitter: @arseblog.


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