Well, I learned something about my own ability to predict football results yesterday, which was that I really shouldn’t bother. After yesterday’s blog I had made some assumptions and whilst the only result I categorically predicted was the United one (which I got wrong), I also thought both Spurs and Leicester would drop points, which I also got pretty wrong.
Perhaps my grapes are on the turn and getting sour though, but I saw a Leicester side that were a little fortunate to get one of their goals (where Allbrighton handles a charged shot), but you have to give them credit. They are benefitting from decisions that all of the sides lower down the league complain clubs like United, Arsenal and City get, but they’re marrying it with confidence and endeavour that is getting them results. And I am now thinking that they are a genuine threat. Much like Liverpool of a couple of seasons ago, Leicester have the benefit of no European football and as a result are fresher than the teams that have been playing in Europe and will be continuing to do so. I also think they’ll be knocked out of the FA Cup away to the Spuds, so I think they’ll have an even clearer path.
The Tiny Totts also picked up a victory away at Southampton, but whilst 2-0 away from home seems pretty comprehensive, the Spuds were gifted their goals through some pretty awful defending, plus they had the gloves of Lloris to thank for their points. Hey, I know a goalkeeper is part of the team and they’re there as the last line of defence, but it still doesn’t make it look like they weren’t holding on at times against the Saints. You can bet your bottom dollar, however, that we won’t be gifted the same level of performance as both Liverpool and Tottenham have had on the south coast on Boxing Day. I fully expect to see a game in which Southampton play their best football of the season.
But at least we have United’s defeat to take some pleasure in. Van Gaal is in some serious doo-doo at the moment. They’ve not really played well ever since he joined the club, yet United fans – and the manager too – have been able to hang their hats on the fact they get results and they managed to get Champions League football this season as a result. But the exit at the group stages, the defeat to Norwich and home draws against West Ham, mean that they are clinging on to fourth at the moment.
The table is starting to look tight and every three points is starting to look like important ones. The Leicester win – putting them five points clear of us – means that we simply have to get something from the game tomorrow. The mantra has to be ‘don’t lose’ from the Arsenal team. I’m even at the stage now where I’m wondering if I would take a draw. Over Christmas we have the opportunity to pick up maximum points and if we do that by beating Southampton, Bournemouth and Newcastle, then I think we’ll at least be within a point of Leicester. Even if we draw with City. They play Liverpool away on Boxing Day, City at home and then Bournemouth at home, before going to the Spuds. That’s a bloody hard run and so if we can keep in touch with them by winning tomorrow night, I fancy us to be top come the New Year.
We need to be. Our away games in the New Year are hardly easy. We have the Spuds, United, Liverpool and City to worry about. Given that there are only nine away games after the Southampton match, that shows you that it will be the importance of our set up away from home that could either spearhead a genuine title assault, or lead to another 2013/14-style ‘close but no cigar’ season. I don’t want another one of those where we fall away after the New Year. I want this league title. I want it so bad. I wanted it in 2013/14, obviously, but I want it even more now. Even now, if you offer me instant knocking out of both FA Cup and Champions league, that will give us a 50% better chance of winning the league – not even a guarantee, just a 50% increase in our chance somehow – I would take it. The Premier League is the benchmark for a great team and winning it is my own personal marker of how good this Arsenal team is. Do they stack up to the Invincibles? The Double winning sides of 98 and 2002? Win the league and maybe we can compare, but not until you’ve done that, guys.
Every side since the Invincibles has been a ‘decent’ side, but never quite made it to be ‘great’. I like this group of players. A Lot. I think they are all capable enough of doing what we want them to do in the league. But as well as technical quality there has to be belief. Does this Arsenal side believe in themselves enough?
Games like tomorrow evening will tell us.
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