Now that Arsenal’s title aspirations are singularly focussed, it will be interesting to see how the League unfolds.
Arguments can be made both ways. Some people have already given up on the squad and the manager. They don’t expect anything but will probably continue to whine after every game. Others might feel that playing one game a week offers a good chance for putting up a sustained assault towards the summit. I’m in this group and believe that the Premier League title is winnable.
Contrary to popular opinion, I don’t think Arsenal have the easier run-in. Away trips to Bolton, Stoke, and Fulham along with home games against United and Liverpool will not be easy. There is no way Arsenal are going to win 10 out of 10. I’d love to see that happen but football just doesn’t work that way. All factors would have to go your way for something like that to materialize and we’ve seen enough going against Arsenal to know that will not happen. United have relatively easier fixtures but also have the challenge of playing in other competitions. I hope they get to the finals of both Cups while losing some players to injuries.
Anyway, I should probably not worry about what United will do or what will happen to them.
Thinking about it from Arsenal’s point of view there are, in my opinion, two factors that will decide the title challenge.
The first is the fitness of key players. Unless Cesc, Song, and Walcott come back immediately or soon after the international break, and the likes of Nasri, Wilshere, Koscielny, Clichy, Sagna, and RvP stay fit for the rest of the season, Arsenal will not win the title.
Any team that wins major titles needs its best players to perform in a large percentage of games. Squad players can fill in at one or two positions and make a contribution but they cannot win the titles. As long as eight or nine first choice players are available for each game Arsenal will have a chance.
The second factor, and one that will probably be even more important that fitness, is tactics. And to be frank this is where I’m a bit concerned. Arsenal will have to adapt to the requirements of each game. Over the course of the next ten games, the Gunners will have to overcome some parked buses, physical assaults, aerial attacks, counter-attacks (especially against United and Liverpool), and unrelenting man-marking.
Wenger will have to adapt his tactics to suit the situations within games. Again there can be arguments both ways. The easier one is to ask, he hasn’t done it too well for a while now so why believe he can do it now? The tougher one is to believe that there have been subtle improvements to the team shape and the style/balance of play over last season.
After 28 games last year, Arsenal actually had one point more than this season, i.e. 58 points. But the Gunners had also conceded 31 goals in this period. Interestingly, the goals conceded last year were more evenly spread out but this season 10 of these goals have come in three freak games. Again one can argue that the freakishness will be repeated at least a couple of times before the end of the season or one can believe that the team will perform consistently.
The Squillaci-Koscielny partnership does ring some alarm bells in this regard, as it would if any team had to play the fourth choice centre back for long periods. This again emphasizes the need for the rest of the first team squad to be fit and the importance of tactics to make the defence stronger.
I just looked at Manchester United’s form post February for the last four years. They average close to 2.3 points per game. At that rate they will end up with 81 points. In order to better that Arsenal will need 25 points from the next 10 games i.e. 8 wins, 1 draw, 1 loss. I expect Arsenal to get 21-22 in this period but the Gunners can get 25 if the two factors mentioned above work out.
It is difficult to quantify but I feel the supporters can also make an impact. Positive support could add those extra 3-4 points that Arsenal need. Constant moans and groans could take those points away.
The referees will also be a factor no doubt. But I didn’t want to include them in this analysis as what they do is out of our hands. Arsenal will have to win despite the refs. There is no other way.
As I’ve said in some of my recent posts, there is still a lot to play for.