MANCHESTER, England — The swagger has returned to their play. The wins and the goals are piling up. Arsene Wenger, a target of abuse for much of the season, was even greeted with rapturous applause as he walked toward the fans.
Things are looking up for Arsenal as the team makes its traditional end-of-season charge for Champions League qualification from the English Premier League.
The question is: Have they left it too late?
Arsenal produced one of its best performances of the season to beat Stoke 4-1 on Saturday and move to within one point of the top four with two games remaining.
If fourth-placed Liverpool fails to beat West Ham away on Sunday, Arsenal knows that victories over Sunderland on Tuesday and Everton on the final day will earn the team a place in the Champions League for the 20th straight season.
It’s some turnaround from a month ago, when Arsenal lost at Crystal Palace 3-0 and Wenger’s future was looking bleak amid strong criticism from a section of fans.
On Saturday, as he was making his way along the touchline toward the dressing room after the final whistle, Wenger gave a wave to Arsenal’s visiting supporters and they roared their approval.
“At the moment, we have consistency,” Wenger said. “Let’s finish well.”
The pressure on Liverpool was ramped up even further by Manchester City beating Leicester 2-1 to move into third place, above the Reds.
City has 72 points, Liverpool 70, and Arsenal 69. Manchester United is on 65 points in sixth place, with a game in hand.
Here’s a look at the other games on Saturday:
STOKE 1, ARSENAL 4
Olivier Giroud tapped in two close-range finishes, while Alexis Sanchez netted his 50th Premier League goal for Arsenal in the team’s fifth win in its last six games.
Mesut Ozil also scored, finishing off a slick team move that showed the confidence Arsenal is starting to play with.
Stoke’s reply came through substitute Peter Crouch in the 67th, which made it 2-1. Replays showed the striker punched the ball into the net, but the offense was missed by match officials.
MANCHESTER CITY 2, LEICESTER 1
City got two big breaks on its way to victory over the deposed champions.
The team’s first goal, scored by David Silva, could have been ruled out as Raheem Sterling was standing in an offside position and directly in Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel’s line of vision when Silva took aim.
Gabriel Jesus made it 2-0 from the penalty spot, Shinji Okazaki reduced the deficit with an acrobatic volley, before City’s second piece of fortune.
Leicester was awarded a penalty in the 76th minute when Riyad Mahrez was fouled. Mahrez took it himself but slipped as he shot, kicking the ball against his standing foot and into the net. The referee disallowed the goal and awarded City a free kick, holding up two fingers to show that Mahrez took two consecutive touches.
“The referee was so brave in making the decision,” City manager Pep Guardiola said. “I’ve seen that happen before (but) a long time ago.”
SUNDELAND 0, SWANSEA 2
Swansea could be celebrating another season in the league on Sunday.
This win, achieved courtesy of first-half goals by Fernando Llorente and Kyle Naughton, lifted Swansea four points above the relegation zone.
Third-to-last Hull will join Sunderland and Middlesbrough in being relegated if it loses at Crystal Palace on Sunday. Even a draw probably won’t be enough for Hull because of its inferior goal difference.
Swansea’s players paid for the tickets of the 3,000 away fans for the match, and the traveling contingent saw their team notch a third win in four games.
BOURNEMOUTH 2, BURNLEY 1
Josh King enhanced his burgeoning reputation by scoring his 16th goal of the season to win the game for Bournemouth in the 85th minute.
Twelve of King’s goals have come since the middle of January and the Norway forward is the biggest reason why Bournemouth can celebrate securing the highest finish in its 118-year history.
The south coast team is in 10th place, and is guaranteed to finish higher than last year’s 16th place.
MIDDLESBROUGH 1, SOUTHAMPTON 2
Southampton strengthened its chances of securing a top-half finish with this win, secured by goals by Jay Rodriguez and Nathan Redmond either side of halftime.
Southampton climbed into ninth place with two games left of a season in which the south coast team also reached the final of the League Cup, losing to Manchester United.
Shane Long blazed a penalty over the bar for Southampton, before Patrick Bamford reduced already-relegated Middlesbrough’s deficit with his first Premier League goal.
Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80