The Run-In Starts Here

By on March 6, 2010

Arsenal prepare for a visit from Burnley this afternoon and so begins the infamous “easy” run-in. While it is true that we don’t have nearly as many games against top ten sides as either Chelsea or United, the characterization by some of the run-in as being “easy” tends to make me a little uneasy.

A visit to Spurs and a home fixture with City appear to be Arsenal’s toughest matches of the ten remaining. Meanwhile, the other two’s run-ins look like this:

Chelsea: West Ham (H), Blackburn (A), Pompey (A), Aston Villa (H), ManUtd (A), Bolton (H), Spurs (A), Stoke (H), Liverpool (A), Wigan (H)

United: Wolves (A), Fulham (H), Liverpool (H), Bolton (A), Chelsea (H), Blackburn (A), Man City (A), Spurs (H), Sunderland (A), Stoke (H)

So, ours does look relatively easy compared to them, but, if we’ve learned one thing in the last two years, it’s that no result in this league is a given. Not even home to Burnley, who is easily the worst Premier League side away from home since Derby County.

What we are all hoping is that last weekend will prove to be a turning point in our season. And it very well could be. It had all the hallmarks of a “turning point.” I felt it on the day as I’m sure most of you did. But potential turning points don’t change a season, they merely point the way, and it remains for Arsenal to follow its direction right to a make-shift stage in the middle of the Emirates pitch where the trophy and winners’ medals await.

This year, we have not had nearly as much trouble against so-called lesser opposition as we have in previous seasons. And that is exactly why we are still in the title race in March despite likely finishing last in the Big Four “mini-league.” I have said it time and time again that the league is not won in matches against United and Chelsea but against Bolton, Blackburn, Burnley, Birmingham, etc…. As painful as those defeats were to us, a loss at this stage of the season to Burnley would be far more painful in the long-run.

Of course, if we had gotten even a few decent results against the other big clubs, we could be top right now, but “what-if’s” and “could’ve-been’s” will do us no good now, and, in fact, would only serve to hurt us more. The players have shown that they can pick themselves up following soul-crushing defeats like the ones against Chelsea and United this season. But it’s not about that anymore.

Now, it all comes down to consistency. Can Arsenal deliver the goods consistently over these next 10 games, because if they were to win all 10, they would likely be champions. Chelsea look likely to drop at least 5-7 points over those ten games, on their current form, and United, who have looked less than impressive away from Old Trafford, still have four tough away fixtures including the Manchester derby. They also look ripe to drop 5-8 points over the run-in.

Despite all the injuries, despite all the big-match losses, despite being written off three times this season, despite never being given a chance at all by many… despite it all, Arsenal still find themselves with a real chance at winning the title and all we have to do is win ONE match… ten times.

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