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Saturday, 7 December 2013

Opportunity knocks - Arsenal must take it

Can they take their chance this year?
I wrote in the season preview that there was a chance for someone to maybe take advantage of the flux that was about to affect Man Utd, Man City and Chelsea. Never before had the previous years top three come in to a new campaign with new bosses in place. For Arsenal, Liverpool and Spurs this surely represented an opportunity. So far Arsenal have been the team that has pushed forward with the signing of Mesut Ozil providing the absolute X Factor around the Club as a whole.
Despite the carping from the pundits Arsenal have passed just about every test so far. You'd have to think, given what has happened since, that the side wouldn't have lost at Old Trafford had flu not been sweeping the squad. If Arsenal win tomorrow they will go 15 points clear of the Champions. I'm going to stick my neck out and say that, if they're not already out of it, then United would be put away for good with a Gunners victory against Everton. But it's not just Man Utd that can't pick up the "easy" points. Today we've seen Chelsea lose and Man City drop two more points away from home. Liverpool may have two comfortable home wins in the last four days, but they lost at Hull last week and we swept them aside at our place a month or so ago.
With the way the results have gone again this weekend there is a massive chance for Arsenal to put distance between themselves and everyone else. In a way there is even more pressure on the game tomorrow because of the opportunity it represents. I said on Thursday that we would know by Christmas if we are serious contenders. The fact is now that if we get results in our next three games the Premier League would be Arsenal's to throw away. If someone offered me a win and two draws from our next three games I would bite their arm off. Not losing to City or Chelsea is crucial as it means neither of them will have got any closer to us in the table.
It's quite difficult to not get too carried away at the moment. The truth is that I don't want to start believing yet. At the same time that might be affecting my enjoyment a little bit. Sadly we've been up there a couple of times since we last won the Title and then blown it when it was ours to win. I listened to Alan Davies on the excellent The Tuesday Club podcast this week and he said he wished it was May now so that at least he would know how it turns out. He also pointed out that, with our record, it's too early to get excited. Apart from anything else I couldn't handle six months without sleep because the thought of Arsenal winning the Premier League is filling your mind all the time. Davies also mentioned that in 2008 we were 8 points clear in February but fell apart spectacularly. December is definitely too soon to start getting excited.
Having said all of that there are some major differences to 2008. Hear are a few: We don't have Almunia keeping his place ahead of Lehmann; we don't have Gael Clichy at left-back; we don't have a knackered Kolo Toure coming in to the side and breaking up an excellent Senderos/Gallas partnership; we don't have a Captain so unsuited to the role as Gallas; we don't have Greedybayor not passing to Nicklas Bendtner to guarantee three points at Birmingham just because he didn't like him; we don't (yet) have our goal poaching striker laying in hospital with his ankle completely shattered. This team simply "feels" different. At the same time we are lacking anyone who knows what it's like to go the distance in the Premier League and win the Title. However, there is an aura about some of the Arsenal players at the moment. They play the game for each other with the requisite fight needed to get over the line. To borrow a line from Arsene Wenger they seem to have "exceptional spirit" in this squad of players, not least in the way the German internationals seem to be leading the squad, and who seem to love being at Arsenal.
As usual I have to sound a note of caution in that we have been pretty exceptional in terms of results since February this year. At some point there is going to be a blip. We will undoubtedly go through a phase where results falter. If that phase is over the next four weeks then we are in trouble. If it comes in the four weeks after that then, while unwelcome, it wouldn't be such an issue. With Podolski, Walcott and Chamberlain all hopefully returning to full fitness, and Jack Wilshere being handled very sensibly (largely thanks to the fact that Aaron Ramsey has been so good) there is no case of tired legs. At the same time there is still the need to bring in some genuine back-up to Giroud in January - it would be criminal to throw away a Title through not having someone who can play a run of games if required (Bendtner probably could, in fairness, but he wouldn't get given the time by many in the home crowd to "enjoy" a run in the side). There is one more person knocking about who could be a huge figure in the run-in. If Arsenal can get to March still up there challenging then Abou Diaby, if he could just stay fit for seven or eight games, might just provide the midfield spark that could carry us over the line. Diaby has the ability to have a massive impact and that could be Kevin Campbell-esque if we can get there. That's a long way off, of course, and a win over Everton is what matters most at this very moment.

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