Arsenal Prepare to Run the Gauntlet

By on January 20, 2010

Arsenal’s fixture with Bolton later this evening is crucial for many reasons. First, and most obvious, Arsenal can go top of the league with 2-goal margin of victory. But, second, and perhaps more important in the long run, is Arsenal will need all the confidence they can muster as we go into a four-game run of fixtures of the likes no other club will have to deal with all season.

Somehow, the fixture gods up at Premier League offices, have once again thrown a challenge on Arsenal. Last year, it was United, Villa, City, and Chelsea in consecutive league fixtures last November followed by Chelsea and United back-to-back in May. In 2007-08, it was Chelsea, Liverpool, and United in 3 of 4 matches (with the fourth being Bolton) in March-April. Both of those years were complicated by the fact that in 2008-09 we had two more Champions League matches with United in the middle of that stretch and two more with Liverpool in the year before.

If you consider the top 7 to be the big 4 plus City, Spurs, and Villa, only United even had three of those matches scheduled consecutively when they faced us, Spurs, and City early on in the season. Besides them, no other top club will have to face more than 2 top 7 opponents consecutively.

Now, of course, the schedule is electronically-generated, so I am most certainly not proposing that this is due to a league conspiracy against Arsenal. But, it does mean that the club’s “moment of truth” is near on the horizon. Following our FA Cup Fourth Round tie with Stoke on Sunday, Arsenal will effectively be running the gauntlet of the Premier League’s top clubs. Villa away, United at home, Chelsea away, and Liverpool at home… all in a mere 15 days.

We can either emerge on the other side with a strong foothold in the title challenge or be facing a near insurmountable challenge. I would guess that Arsenal need to take an absolute minimum of 7 points from these four games, but, ideally, 10 points. In that same time, United will play us, Portsmouth, and Villa away. Chelsea will play Birmingham, Burnley, and Hull before our meeting on the 10th of February.

This is crunch time, if there ever was one. Of course, the vagaries of the fixture list mean that Arsenal will have a more straightforward run-in to the end of the season than the other two contenders, but that will mean nothing if we cannot get by the next 3 weeks without self-imploding.

Memories of our February collapse in 2007-08 are still vivid in many of the supporters’ minds. I can honestly say that throughout 2007-08, I fully believed we would win the title. I had that same feeling in my gut that I had in 2002 and 2004-that it was our destiny to win the league that season. Then, of course, it all went bad.

We can take comfort from the club’s second-half performance last season, which saw an unbeaten run of games stretch from November 25 to the home defeat to Chelsea on May 10. We will need a similar fortitude this season if we are to win the title. Of course, last season wasn’t an ACN year.

Over the course of the next three weeks, both the players and the supporters need to show just how bad we want to win the league. In a post-match interview on Sunday, Cesc said that other teams think they can win the league, but no one WANTS to win the league as much as us.

The returns of Clichy, Denilson, and Walcott offer some relief from our injury woes (though the return of Bendtner is sorely needed), but the fact is that Arsenal will have to do this more short-handed than any of the other sides in contention. Should we emerge at the end of the gauntlet not only alive and breathing but stronger than when we went in, the league will be ours for the taking.


  1. Ted Harwood

    January 20, 2010 at 11:32 am

    I know it’s usually said that the title challenge doesn’t rest on the matches vs. the other top clubs, but my gosh, this stretch still seems massive in terms of confidence going forward. If we get ten points out of those four games, I don’t see anybody stopping us. If we get seven, the rest of the year is going to be very interesting. It almost feels like a playoff series in baseball or hockey, that four-match stretch…

  2. kc

    January 20, 2010 at 3:32 pm

    Good post. The next month will decide our title chances this year. The only thing that worries me is that we still need to buy a Striker. AW is pinning his hopes on Bendtner being healthy, but is Nick the answer we need up front? His Size helps a ton, but I don’t see him ever being our go to target up front. In other words I have no confidence in Nicky B to be the goal scorer we need.

  3. Ted Harwood

    January 20, 2010 at 6:53 pm

    Well, that’s one way to start the run-in today…

  4. Gary

    January 20, 2010 at 9:42 pm

    As much as some people dislike him, and the possibility of not signing a striker, having Bendtner’s presence up front could mean the season for Arsenal. I hope to see him back in form after his injury and help the gunners raise the trophy in May.

  5. aaronarin

    January 21, 2010 at 5:39 am

    4-2 FT

  6. Microraptor

    January 21, 2010 at 7:35 am

    It’s a shame a player got injured — it’s a shame when any player gets badly injured, even a Bolton player. But Arsenal played to the whistle. So the pundite/media/rest-of-humanity can blame the ref if they have any issues with the second goal. Personally I think there is no point being “sporting” when you are a goal down, want to win the league — and are up against a team whose entire strategy over the last decade seems to have been to kick lumps out of our side. When Arsenal used to complain about this sort of rough-house treatment, all we heard was that football is a “man’s game,” a “contact sport” and that we were a side of “soft” foreigners/southerners who couldn’t “mix it” with Fat Sam’s/Everton’s/Man U’s (add team here) committed, full blooded English yeomen. It’s too bad for Mr. Davies, but hopefully he will get better soon. Meanwhile it seems Arsenal have picked up a valuable lesson: sometimes you have to win nasty if you want to win big.

    • Ted Harwood

      January 21, 2010 at 11:37 am

      And as Wenger pointed out, the guys had no idea how injured Davies was–they couldn’t possibly know–and if they couldn’t see him on the ground as play continued, there’s no reason for them to stop. Under the new rules, the ref is responsible for stopping play, and he didn’t, running right past the prostrate Davies. So what were Arsenal to do? They were concentrating on their buildup play and may not have seen that he was still down, how bad it was.

      It’s a shame what happened to him. It was a bad tackle. One never wants to see that. But I don’t see how it’s Arsenal’s responsibility to stop play in that situation, so I agree with you.

      • ArsenalStation

        January 21, 2010 at 12:24 pm

        Of course. James Vaughn didn’t stop play when Denilson went down, and that could have been a fucking heart attack for all anyone knew at the moment. That was not even mentioned and if he had scored and put Everton up 3-1 you wouldn’t have heard a peep about it from the press. But when it’s us… we’re obviously evil cheaters. Same with the challenge? No talk about Cesc’s penalty shout which would have nullified his goal after the foul.

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