Thursday, February 09, 2012

Seven Games that will Define Arsenal's Season

It's only mid-February but we're already perilously close to what The Flight of the Concords would call 'Business Time'. By that, I don't mean Arsenal football club are going to wine and dine our opponents, and then take them back to the Emirates for some 'business' - I apologise if this is getting a little weird - I mean that we're coming up to the real make-or-break period of the season.

Why? Well, try this fixture-list on for size:

* Sunderland (away) - Sat-11/2
* AC Milan (away) - Weds-15/2
* Sunderland (away - FA Cup) - Sat -18/2
* Spurs (home) - Sun - 2/26
* Liverpool (away) - Sat -3/3
* AC Milan (home) - Tues - 6/3
* Newcastle (home) - Mon 12/3

We can all try to be positive, confident and believe in the team, but let's face it: that fixture list is ridiculous.

We have to travel all the way up to Sunderland, to Milan then back to Sunderland in the space of a week, like some form of deluded Geordie fashion-queen. Three away games in a row is difficult in any set of circumstances, but when they involve extensive travel like this, it becomes even harder. The worst case, and unfortunately entirely plausible situation, is that we are going to lose all three of these games. Why? Well, Arsene will put our strongest possible team out against Milan, so we are going to have to rest players either before or after the trip to Italy. Given we've just had a week off, I think we'll probably play a strong XI on Saturday, a strong XI in Milan, and then try to rotate for the FA Cup. In a nightmare scenario, we could lose to an in-form Sunderland, lose again to a Zlatan-inspired Milan, and then see an under-strength, demoralised team lose once again in the FA Cup.

However, I feel that we have to prioritise our trophies in this manner, even if things don't turn out for the best. For me, this is our proper order of priorities, even if it's a little sad. Realistically, the FA Cup is our best chance of a trophy this season, yet we have to prioritise the league in order that we can continue to re-build in the next transfer window, and I think it's important to the club's morale that we go out to Italy and get some form of result.

An ideal scenario would be to eek out a win in the league, get a score-draw in Milan, then eek out another win in Sunderland. If we were to win at least two of these three games, it will keep our season alive, and massively boost morale. To win all three is, I feel, just a little too much to ask.

Then, after a week's breather, we face Spurs, Liverpool, Milan and Newcastle. These teams currently lie 3rd, 7th, 2nd and 5th in England and Italy. However, three of these four games are at home, which will hopefully make a big difference, especially given the fact we have a nice break between the second leg against Milan and Newcastle.

My prediction? Well, actually, I feel quite confident. Despite the distinctly uneven season we've had so far, to put it charitably, we've hung in there. We're only a few points off the top four in the league, and we have two difficult, but winnable games, in the FA Cup and Europe. The big win against Blackburn has hopefully boosted confident, and key players, like Sagna, are coming back into the team. If other players like Gervinho, Gibbs, Diaby and, even Santos can come back into the squad at some point during this run, we will be difficult to beat.

For now, let's concentrate on our first two opponents - Sunderland and Milan. Two rather different cities, one might say, but two clubs who are both in pretty decent form.

Sunderland have had a notable resurgence under Martin O'Neill's stewardship. There is a stat out there somewhere which says they have the best record in the league since he took over as manager. While they are missing players such as Cattermole, they also have a dangerously in-form players such as Stephane Sessegnon (6 goals, 7 assists this season) and ex-Arsenal Seb Larrson in the team. We just about edged them out when we played at the Grove in October, but games between the two teams are usually close (there have only been only 8 goals in the last 6 games between us) and going up there twice in a week will be a tall order.

Milan, currently lie second in the league, but should be missing a few key players, such as Boateng and Pato. However, after Ibrahimovic's sending off against Juve, he will be fully rested and probably relatively focused (as far as Zlatan ever can be) by the time he faces us. Aside from the red-mist, he has been in superb form for Milan this year with 15 goals, 4 assists, and an average of 2.9 key passes per game. I remember his two goals against us during his ill-fated season with Barca, and he has the ability to do that to us again if our defence drops concentration for a moment.

All that said, I'm only going to predict one game at a time. So, Arsenal 1 Sunderland 0 on Saturday. I think the 120 minutes Sunderland played this week will be a factor, and we will slightly edge them out, setting us up nicely for the game in Italy.

Ten thoughts on the match, as usual, after the game. Till then, Up the Arsenal.


Anonymous said...

Well researched article. Nicely written except for the first paragraph. It's good to read from a contributor who actually knows the game, team and situation we face. Quite rare nowadays!

Goonerboy said...

Thanks. Sorry if you didn't like the first para - my poor attempt at humour!

Anonymous said...

I reckon we will not win again till Villa at home on march 24
We showed what we are made of v Fulham, Swansea, man utd and Bolton. Blackburn was a one off against a very weak team at the bottom of their game.
We have one top player Rvp, one kid with potential AoC and a few good premier players: Sagna and Arteta.
The rest of the squad are average to poor PL players.
Sorry to say.

MysticGooner said...

I'd be Happy with W-L-W-D-D-D-W.
We be out of Champions League but still in FA Cup & a chance at 4th.
Good Blog.

Danish Gooner said...

This team havnt got the balls for a fight so it will be over in a fortnight starting with a defeat tomorrow,unfortunately.We have been here before and the tactics and pride is still so low in some of the players,i really hope for some decent results but i am very sceptic to this.