Arsenal’s top-four pursuit could be decided by the chaos of Nuno Tavares

Tavares in action against West Ham on Sunday

A flat Arsenal had little spring in their step against West Ham but grace is hardly a necessity when attempting to clear the hurdles that stand between Mikel Arteta’s side and a place in the top four. “In England you say win ugly,” the manager said, with a hint of pre-permascowl Mourinho. “But I am extremely happy to see a team win ugly.”

They have taken another precarious step towards a coveted Champions League spot, owing to fine defensive and unlikely goalscoring displays from Rob Holding and Gabriel Magalhaes, but there can be no mistaking that a West Ham side fatigued by their Europa League campaign did afford a degree of mercy.

Arsenal will need to raise their game against a Leeds side fighting for survival next weekend before the crucial north London derby with Tottenham. At this stage, it is a question of mindset and mettle as much as tactics or individual quality. It is like two boxers heading into the championship rounds, both unsteady and with gaps in their defence, emptying their reserves with Rocky music overlaid in the background. What those montages don’t account for, though, is Nuno Tavares attempting to storm the ring while only succeeding in getting himself tangled face-first in the ropes.

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