Arsene Wenger saw his side only just hang on for three points at Crystal Palace on Saturday to take them up to third in the Premier League table and he believes that the race for the top four places this year could be the toughest yet.
First half goals from Santi Cazorla and Olivier Giroud were eventually enough for Arsenal to claim victory, though Glenn Murray scored deep into injury time and hit the post when he should have equalised with seconds remaining.
Defeats for Manchester United and Southampton, against Swansea and Liverpool respectively, meant the Gunners went a point clear in third behind Manchester City. They are now favourites to land one of the two Champions League qualification spots.
Though there are only four points separating them from seventh-placed Tottenham Hotspur and Wenger insisted that this season's race to land the lucrative spots at the top of the league has been the busiest he can remember.
“It’s the first time that maybe there’s many more teams involved. Last year was not bad as well because with four games to go Everton were in a strong position," he is quoted as saying by the London Evening Standard.
Despite the acknowledgement that competition for one of the places he has secured in each of the past 18 seasons has increased, the Arsenal manager insisted he is team had what it took after seeing lots of improvement on their early season performances.
“The spirit is there and we want to keep that as a very strong basis. The team has come up a level and we see that with the results," he added.
Palace were very unlucky not to get something from the game after a terrific second half performance and were inches away from levelling at the death, but they were allowed back into a game that should have been over.
Arsenal appear to have decided to go for a counter-attacking approach in away games recently, departing from their more usual possession-based game. This has some people enthused but Gunners watching their side in recent games will have cause for concern.
Wenger's new pragmatic approach in away fixtures worked at Manchester City
This is because they have been prevented from breaking effectively in their past two Premier League away matches. In the first half at Palace they were doing it effectively and played some very nice football, which led to the goals.
But Alan Pardew's men upped the intensity in the second half and the midfield combination of Cazorla, Francis Coquelin, Mesut Özil, Alexis Sanchez and Danny Welbeck struggled to move the ball out of their own half.
A lack of quality meant that the general pressure being put on by Palace could not be converted into goals and the Gunners got away with it. They weren't so lucky a couple of weeks ago at White Hart Lane.
Wenger Has Been Warned
Spurs dominated the north London derby and another early Arsenal goal was not enough to hold them back. Harry Kane hit a double, with the winner coming a few minutes before the end, and an inability to keep the ball or break effectively ultimately ended in defeat.
Wenger's new pragmatic approach in away fixtures worked at Manchester City, where his side sealed an important 2-0 win, but it doesn't come naturally to them and other teams are finding a way to put pressure on them. Arsenal must be wary or they will suffer.