I just glanced at the upcoming fixtures list and was pleasantly surprised by the remaining games in January. I knew there were Cup ties with Leeds and Ipswich followed by a game against West Ham but hadn’t realized the next two games after that were at home against Wigan and Ipswich.
In effect, out of the next five games, three are against Championship sides and two against relegation candidates. Three of these five are at home. With due respect to the opponents, I don’t think Arsene could have put together this list if he’d been given the chance to line up some easy (at least relatively) games. These games will also provide the likes of Arshavin and Rosicky the chance to find some form.
Obviously, the players can’t just turn up and expect to win but if they can continue with their recent form these games are eminently winnable. In this topsy-turvy season the Gunners have been able to string together a run of five wins only once before. That included wins over Birmingham, Shakhtar (CL), City, Newcastle (CC), and West Ham. These fixtures are certainly much easier than those, no?
I feel building a winning momentum will be extremely important if Arsenal have to challenge for the Premiership title. United have four points and a game in hand. Arsenal need to make that up with 17 games remaining. I have a feeling anything less than 12 wins out of those 17 (over 70 percent win ratio) will not be enough. Tough ask (currently Arsenal have 12 wins out of 21, 57 percent win ratio) but it’s possible, especially given that we’ve already played away to most of the major teams.
At this level one of the factors that goes into a winning run is unflinching belief among the players. It can prove to be the difference between a draw and a win in a tight game. This isn’t a rational thought, but when the players have that extra dollop of confidence the ball tends to miss the post and goes in instead. This belief cannot be generated via external factors and can only come through a string of results on the pitch.
These five games are spread over 18 days and are coming on the back of the last 4 that were within 9 days. Clearly, rotation will be a must and the second eleven, or the B-team as some like to call it, will have to deliver. That bunch struggled in supposedly easy away games. The visit to Ukraine was tough but the performances and results against Braga and Wigan, while somewhat unlucky, were largely disappointing.
In recent past, at home, Arsenal have done well in the Cup ties against lower division opponents even with Carling Cup sides. So I’ll be really surprised (and annoyed) if a decently strong second eleven struggles against a good Leeds side fighting for promotion.
It seems to me that the tricky games will be away to Ipswich (12th) and West Ham (15th) with just two days separating the fixtures. Some might say that winning away in the League Cup semi-final is not mandatory but I think it’ll be extremely beneficial from a confidence point of view. I don’t expect the first team to be involved in the League Cup but Wenger will have to find the right balance between youth and experience.
Rotations are never easy but I hold the opinion that Arsene struggles on this front when compared to other top managers. It’s difficult to explain this but when I see a side with Eboue as left back, Arshavin in front of him, and the defensive midfield comprising of Denilson and Diaby, just to mention one instance, it makes me wonder if the manager has a weak spot in terms of finding the right balance.
I understand the arguments that at times the team is unlucky with decisions and often the choices available to the manager are limited by injuries, but over the last few years there have been too many games where the results haven’t been satisfactory with the lack of balance seeming like a key factor.
Looking at the next five games I can’t see any reason for Arsenal to miss out on five wins even with rotations. Of course, that’s easy for me to say from my armchair but the manager gets paid to win such games and based on his oft-repeated confidence in his squad, I feel the fans have a right to demand big performances.
It won’t be set in stone but at the end of January we will know a lot more about Arsenal’s title credentials.