They say that no matter how bad you feel, there is always someone else worse-off. After the week that Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur have had, you cannot argue with that logic. From 1996, Arsene Wenger has seen Tottenham hire and fire nine managers and have at least three caretaker managers, mind the gap indeed. A significant gap in class, patience and success when looking at the two clubs in my view.
Not that Gooners have that much to shout about this week, mind. Manchester City humped Arsenal 6-3 on Saturday and if ever there was a nagging doubt that this season’s Arsenal could beat smaller teams with ease but struggle against the bigger boys, that game and the comprehensive score-line had the potential to reignite it.
Yes, Arsenal had some more shocking decisions go against them, but the referee and his assistants weren’t the ones who gave away cheap possession in dangerous areas. Two goals were chalked off, and a penalty denied, but considering Arsenal conceded after they scored their legitimate strikes, would they have made a difference? Manchester City could have scored double figures.
Yes, Arsenal lost one half of their much vaunted centre-back partnership when Alvaro Negredo made it 2-1; with Laurent Koscielny being stretchered off with a cut knee, but Thomas Vermaelen replaced him; the club captain and a player who is, of course, a seasoned international defender. But he is a defender who appears to have forgotten how to defend. That Arsenal don’t have any better defensive options, is, well, folly.
Olivier Giroud looks absolutely shattered, and whilst Theo Walcott’s two goals were great to see, is he the player to replace Giroud if he is rested and Arsenal don’t buy a striker (does anyone think Diego Costa would leave high-flying Atletico Madrid at the moment?!) or play Lukas Podolski there? Walcott is actually a very effective ‘big game’ player for the team now, and has caused Chelsea some big problems in recent games too…
And should we be worried by Mikel Arteta’s and Santi Cazorla’s form this season? Arteta looks severly off the pace, has received two avoidable red cards.
Arsenal suffered from some very bang average performances across the pitch; an issue that was also apparent against Manchester United – a game that Arsenal almost looked resigned to losing, despite going into it with a great run of form behind them – and this is worrying for me. I can remember the trophy winning Arsenal teams (albeit pre-billionaire oil money) going to places like Old Trafford, Anfield and Stamford Bridge and winning, or at least, playing well enough to grab a point. Of course, money has changed all of that, but even then, these were the ‘big top-of-the-table clashes’ and had all of the pressures that come with them. But now, Arsenal appear to lack the ‘mental strength’ to believe they can beat their rivals at their grounds…or indeed, at The Emirates.
Which is why Monday’s game against Jose Mourinho’s stuttering Chelsea side is absolutely vital for Arsenal to win. A glance at the table shows Arsenal’s five-point lead has been pulled back to two points between The Gunners, Chelsea and Liverpool, with Manchester City three points behind, and the impressive Everton four points adrift. How that draw against The Toffees now looks like a really big missed opportunity…
Chelsea will come to The Emirates – with a dreadful away form this season, by the way – in the knowledge that not only hasn’t Wenger beaten a Mourinho team before, but that the two team’s League Cup sides met earlier this season and Chelsea comfortably emerged victorious. Arsenal just can’t seem to handle Juan Mata or Fernando Torres whenever they face them. An Arsenal win will do a lot to wipe away the disappointment of the two successive losses against Napoli (another worryingly lifeless, non-performance away from home at a rival’s ground) and Manchester City, and would be a lovely early Christmas present. A loss however would see Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea leap frog Arsenal – as I can’t see any of the title rivals losing or drawing this weekend – and would allow Manchester United to also close the gap. I don’t think Manchester United will be as useless all season and will surely put a run together.
I have been accused of being negative in my columns here, and if I am honest, this last week and the two losses have brought back those feelings of pessimism that the last five years have been filled with. A win against a rival changes this. But surely even the most rose-tinted Gooner has been concerned with the last three performances; where wins or even two draws would have made Arsenal’s end to 2013 much more comfortable for the start of 2014.
What do I think will happen? I am going for a tightly fought 2-1 win over Mourinho’s side. Wenger needs that particular monkey off of his shoulders and after a nine day rest, you’d hope Arsenal, if they really want to be considered title winners, will up their game, Jack Wilshere or not, against a local title rival who have lorded it over them of late. What with Sergio Aguero missing Manchester City’s next run of fixtures and likewise Robin van Persie missing Manchester United’s next few games, Arsenal have the opportunity to put their last three games behind them and bounce back. I fear Manchester City, with their superior (awesome) goal difference; will be hard to remove from first place if they can get there. Luckily, they still look vulnerable away from home.
I reckon Giroud and Walcott to net, and Hazard to score for Chelsea. I really hope Arsenal can recover, it would be a shame if this bright start fizzles out by Boxing Day (like Christmas itself, really).
Take care, thanks for reading.