The next run of fixtures is a bit like that first day back at school after the summer. We knew it was coming, it was somewhere there in the back of our minds while we enjoyed a few blissful weeks on top of the world and yet, it was just ever-so-tempting to ignore the reality until the last day.
Well today is that day and tomorrow the real work begins for this Arsenal team. Wenger chose not to replace any of the current crop’s school clothing in January and has even prepared a few kids for their first year in the big League along the way, but regardless of any of of that, the next run of games will reveal a lot about a team that has remained perennial underdogs. Few think we will win the League, despite our record suggesting otherwise! But I really believe that will help us in the next few games. I watched the City v Chelsea match, albeit in Fulham which made me kind of want Chelsea to slip up, but the sheer expectation on City to roll over their opponents seemed to hinder them. It’s an expectation that isn’t on Arsenal. We haven’t spent millions on chopping and changing a team until it (kind of) works. Nor have we belied the beliefs of the club in the face of such spending. We have tightened at the back and relied on the quality of a team in general. They say the best team wins the League and, you know what, I think we might just have found that.
Arsenal enter the decisive part of their season with games coming thicker and faster than the custard we used to get served at school (thanks for reminding me about school Tom!).
It’s safe to say we have ground out the results in the last couple of weeks, but all that matters is the two-point cushion that we have afforded ourselves at the top of the Premier League. It’s easy to criticise recent performances, however I can’t help but feel that in the past we wouldn’t have taken any points from those games. A big reason behind bucking that trend has been the back five. With Per and Kos at the back I genuinely back them to win almost every 50/50. On the odd occasion when a mistake is made… well, the goalkeeper and full backs have been on hand to cover.
People talk a lot about partnerships – SAS at Liverpool, Fernandinho and Toure at City (FAT) – but I don’t think any of these come close to Arsenal’s centre back pairing (PAK/LAP… Ok, it doesn’t work as a letter anagram but still!). In terms of understanding of each other’s game, their relationship on field is second to none.
The next test will be going on to win the big games, backed by that defensive stability and BOY have we got a lot of them coming up. Liverpool have only won one of the last 13 games against Arsenal and none of the last six at Anfield. The only team to stop SAS in the 11 games they have played this season? Arsenal.
Returning to the Palace game and credit has to be given to them. They have become a much more stable outfit under Pulis. They were organised, disciplined and the return of Chamakh gave a real threat up top. Despite sticking with that woeful haircut, Marouane the Moroccan has been resurgent this campaign and could just keep the Eagles flying in the top flight come May. In a season that has consistently seen shock results, the Arsenal showed a maturity and patience to ensure that this one was a routine win. A big three points with Chelsea drawing with West Ham.
The Ox’s towering performance in that very game proved he has the ability to command that central spot. Despite a lengthy layoff, he showed strength, vision and tenacity all wrapped up in a very well spoken post-match interview. He was joined in a magical midfield with Mesut, Mikel and a scintillating Santi who has continued a superb spell of games. The sparkling Spaniard has shown the form that endeared him to the Emirates faithful when he first made the move from Malaga. His dribbling has been straight out of the top drawer and his little lift to find Chambo was electric. With Wilshere on the mend and Gnabry and Rosicky showing an appetite for action, Arsene will have some selection headaches over the next run of games.
You have to say Chelsea’s perfect away display on Monday somewhat atoned for the points dropped against the Hammers and the Premiership title race is ever so perfectly poised with 14 games to go and 2 points separating the realistic challengers (sorry United fans, it really is game over now). The Gooners have remained top for the majority of the season, but come 6pm on Sunday you’ll have done very well if that is maintained.
Liverpool will have a point to prove after an unsatisfactory point against West Brom. There is no denying they have two superb strikers in Suarez and Sturridge, but Arsenal will look to their dominant display in the reverse fixture as a source of encouragement on Saturday. Three points on the road would do wonders for confidence heading into the three tough home tests that follow.
Midfield is an area we can and should dominate, with Liverpool lacking a natural defensive midfielder after Lucas’ injury. It’s a shame there’s no Ramsey tomorrow because he stole the show in the reverse fixture at the Emirates. Hat tricks have been a popular occurrence in these games with 5 hat tricks scored in this fixture, the most trebles in any fixture in premier league history. What a day it would be for big Olly Giroud to bag one this weekend after Wenger decided in his wisdom against bringing in a striker. Still, at least he thought of the medical team and is keeping them busy with our new Spineless Swede. There are always goals in this fixture so expect plenty this weekend, but it’s the kind of game we need to go and win and make a statement to the rest of the League.
Wenger has to do a job very much akin to Mourinho at the Etihad. Suffocate the goalscoring threat before it has a chance to do the damage. That means getting right in the faces of Coutinho, Gerrard and Suarez before they even get a sniff in the penalty area. Something the missing Flamini might have relished.
This could be exactly the sort of fixture that brings out the best in Arsenal. Liverpool will be under pressure to make the running and if Arsenal can weather the inevitable, and proverbial, storm whilst counter attacking as swiftly as they can do, the game should open up nicely for the creative names to make their mark on the game. Mesut is surely due a big game no? Could this be just the ticket for him? Let’s hope so.
A very difficult game on paper where normally you’d take a point but given the circumstances and the ‘must win’ nature of every game there’s no reason why, if set up correctly, Arsenal can’t go and produce one of those ‘perfect away performances’. Step up Monsieur Wenger.
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