by Steven GRIFFITHS
Arsene Wenger’s team are three points behind fourth placed Manchester City and four adrift of third placed Liverpool, who have played a game more than their top four rivals.
The fifth placed Gunners and City are both in action on Tuesday, with Pep Guardiola’s side hosting West Bromwich Albion.
Arsenal’s 4-1 thrashing of Stoke on Saturday had given them renewed hope of controlling their own fate, but Liverpool responded by crushing West Ham on Sunday.
As a result, the north Londoners are relying on slips by City or Liverpool to sneak into the top four.
But if they fail to beat relegated Sunderland at the Emirates Stadium, it will effectively end their challenge in the most dispiriting manner possible.
That would be another bitter blow for Arsene Wenger, who once again had to endure calls for his resignation from frustrated Arsenal fans, who flew a plane trailing the message: “Wenger – Out means Out” over Stoke’s stadium.
In the circumstances, bottom of the table Sunderland appear ideal opponents for Arsenal as they aim to take the top four fight to the final weekend when they host Everton.
Bellerin is convinced the way they coped with a barrage of Stoke pressure to record a fifth win in their last six games proves Arsenal are determined to finish the season strongly, no matter what happens in the European race.
“We have a lot of heart, a lot of character and, even though in some games it may not look like we’ve shown it, the team really wants to be there (in the Champions League),” the defender said.
“We’ve shown that against Stoke. We knew that we were playing for our lives really, so any result other than a win wasn’t good for us.
“We knew that at the start of the game, so we knew we had to win no matter what. I think the team did really well.”
– Character –
When Stoke’s Peter Crouch reduced Arsenal’s lead to 2-1 with a controversial goal that went in off his arm, it appeared the Gunners might crumble.
But they hit back with goals from Alexis Sanchez and Olivier Giroud to seal a rare win at a venue that has seen plenty of Arsenal surrenders in the past.
Gunners defender Rob Holding echoed Bellerin as he praised the way they stood up to a high-pressure situation.
“Crouch got that goal and their fans got a bit louder,” he said.
“I didn’t see it go in, but I saw some of the lads shouting and waving their arms about. It went in but we got the result, so it doesn’t matter.
“We showed a bit of character to stay in the game when they had seven corners in a row.
“We just had to withstand it and then score more goals on the break to polish it off.”
Even a shock win at Arsenal wouldn’t salvage Sunderland’s dismal season, but a positive performance would at least give them something to build on as they prepare for the Championship.
Beaten by lowly Swansea on Saturday, David Moyes’s side were jeered by Sunderland fans in their home finale and winger Seb Larsson conceded the criticism was deserved.
“Listen, you have got to take what comes your way. We have been on the pitch during the season, so we are where we deserve to be,” he said.
“You can’t just take the praise when it comes your way, you have got to take the other part of the game as well. It wasn’t good enough.”