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Top-four Gunners – how Arsenal have turned things around in Champions League bid

Arsenal have turned themselves into genuine top-four contenders once again.

Another good weekend for Arsenal saw them beat Watford and move into the Premier League top four as nearest rivals Manchester United and West Ham slipped up.

Mikel Arteta’s side are now a point clear in fourth place, despite having played three games fewer than the two Uniteds in fifth and sixth.

Here, the PA news agency asks how and why the Gunners have managed to go from two consecutive eighth-place finishes to challenging for a Champions League return.

Did they not spend big in the summer?

Bringing back Martin Odegaard from Real Madrid on a permanent deal was a key summer acquisition for Arsenal.

Bringing back Martin Odegaard from Real Madrid on a permanent deal was a key summer acquisition for Arsenal (John Walton/PA)

For Arsenal, yes, the investment leading into the new season was something most supporters would not have anticipated.

The club ended up as the biggest spenders in Europe as Arteta and technical director Edu went about improving the squad in places where it had previously been weak.

The likes of Nuno Tavares and Albert Sambi Lokonga added squad depth while Ben White formed a fine defensive partnership with Gabriel Magalhaes following his £50million arrival from Brighton.

Takehiro Tomiyasu came in as first-choice right-back and the permanent signing of Martin Odegaard has been inspired, while adding goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale has arguably been the most successful piece of transfer business.

So it is all about money?

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Definitely not.

While the investment was required to move Arsenal up a level, the players already available to Arteta have also come into their own this season.

With an average age of just over 24, the Gunners have the youngest team in the Premier League but a number of their precocious talents have made a big step forward in the past few months, adding much-needed consistency to their game.

Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe top the charts for combined goals and assists for players aged 21 or under this season – Saka with 13 and his fellow England international second with 11.

Ramsdale, Tomiyasu and Odegaard are all 23, White is a year older, while the likes of Kieran Tierney and Gabriel (both 24) are continuing to impress with 20-year-old Gabriel Martinelli also sparkling at times.

They do have a small squad, though

Former captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang left Arsenal on a free in January before joining Barcelona.

Former captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang left Arsenal on a free in January before joining Barcelona (Martin Rickett/PA)

True – while having such a young team, Arsenal also have one of the smallest first-team squads in the division.

As long as injuries do not stack up, that should not be an issue for Arteta who could arguably benefit from not having a number of players unhappy with a lack of opportunity.

A harmonious squad has no doubt played a part in Arsenal’s improved results, Arteta having made bold calls to allow the likes of Mesut Ozil and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to leave the Emirates Stadium in the past year or so – tearing up their contracts to get them out of the door as quickly and smoothly as possible.

Is this all part of Arteta’s fabled ‘process’ then?

Arteta (right) and technical director Edu have been working together to improve results at Arsenal.

Arteta (right) and technical director Edu have been working together to improve results at Arsenal (Anthony Devlin/PA)

Arteta has often said his job at the moment is overseeing a ‘process’ to return Arsenal back to the Champions League after a five-year hiatus, a term which he has been criticised for using by some supporters.

He was recently asked about how much money Roman Abramovich has pumped into London rivals Chelsea in recent years and his answer was telling: “We have an owner (Stan Kroenke) that is putting money in the club for many years now.

“Our responsibility – why we were doing that- was to be able to recruit and improve the team and the club and the facilities to a different level. We had to streamline the number of players that we had, the number of staff that we had, and start to clean the surface to build something that could be sustainable in the end. We are in the process of that for the last few years.”

The process, for the time being at least, appears to be progressing nicely.

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