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24 July 2024

Arsenal back on track for top four finish

Arsenal's Robin van Persie (left) celebrates with Theo Walcott after scoring their third goal from the penalty spot during the FA Cup fourth round match against Aston Villa at Emirates Stadium on Sunday in London, England. (FILE)


Arsenal's season has been marked by too many false dawns but Thomas Vermaelen believes the FA Cup victory over Aston Villa can help salvage the club's faltering challenge for a top four place.

Arsene Wenger's side resume their Premier League campaign away to Bolton Wanderers on Wednesday in their first match since an astonishing Cup fightback against Villa.

Trailing 2-0 at half-time, the pressure on Wenger appeared certain to increase before three goals in seven second half minutes, including two penalties from star striker Robin van Persie set up a last 16 clash with either Sunderland or Middlesbrough.

Having not won silverware since they lifted the FA Cup in 2005, it was important the Gunners retained their interest in the competition but their focus now switches back to the Premier League.

Arsenal's chances of mounting a late challenge in the title race disappeared after a run of three successive defeats left them 18 points adrift of leaders Manchester City.

The priority now is to reclaim a place in the top four - and with it entry to next season's Champions League.

Wenger's team, however, lie fifth, five points behind fourth-placed Chelsea who travel to Swansea 24 hours before the action gets underway at Bolton's Reebok Stadium.

Arsenal cannot afford to drop further behind and Vermaelen insists the manner of the victory over Villa will have an impact on their prospects for the rest of the season.

"It always gives you confidence if you get a good comeback win. Even the game itself gave us confidence because we played better than last weekend (a 2-1 loss to Manchester United).

"When we had the ball we were better, we put our opponents under pressure and the result gives us even more confidence," the Belgian defender added. "It is great for us.

"We have lost three games (in a row) in the league, so that is why it was good that we won (against Villa). It gives us confidence for the next game, so we will fight hard on Wednesday and try to get the three points."

Owen Coyle's Bolton also secured a place in the FA Cup fifth round on the back of a home win over Swansea.

More significant was the league victory against Liverpool the previous weekend that ensured Bolton remained one point above the bottom three.

Ten points from their last six league games have helped revive Wanderers' hopes of avoiding relegation after a dismal first half of the season.

And centre back Zat Knight insists there is a new belief within the squad.

"A few of the boys had been saying we haven't beaten any of the top four in a while. It was a good occasion and a good performance against Liverpool," said Knight.

"The fixtures haven't gone kindly for us. At the beginning of the season we had a tough run and we are in a tough run again now.

"We've got Arsenal, and then a few weeks later Manchester City and Chelsea. They are all starting to fight for the Champions League spots and the points are vital for them as well as they are for us.

"We just have to stay focused. We're one point above the relegation zone at the moment so we're out of the bottom three and it's the first time we've been out of it in a long time.

"We have to stick to what we have been doing and not get ahead of ourselves."