It’s the first day back in to the office for me today, having had 11 days off for Christmas and despite the fact that 2016 is already four days old, this is when I start to look ahead to 2016 and think about what I want to achieve. It’s also the time in the year in which I plug in all of the fixtures for the remainder of the season in to the calendar which sits in my kitchen, so almost inevitably I begin to the play the “we’re halfway through the season, so I’ll plot out where I think we’ll get points and how we can win the league” game, which is of course a completely pointless exercise. It’s an exercise in futility because you can never accurately predict results – what with the variables that always exist in football (injuries, signings, form, etc) – but it’s one that I do nonetheless. I suspect it is due to some sort of inate desire to feel like I have some sort of control when it comes to The Arsenal, which of course I do not, in an aspect of my life which means so much but I can do little to influence the outcomes. People say you are in control of your own life and destiny. When it comes to my football passion, that simply isn’t true, so I’d invite those people to see the world through a football supporters eyes.
Anyway, as I was saying, the prediction of results for the season. Perhaps in an effort not to get too carried away, as well as recognition that predicting results of games three months away is completely pointless, my thoughts yesterday evening as The Management plotted in the fixtures, was looking ahead at the next six Premier League games we have. After all, breaking down the season into little pockets of fixtures is what the team and Arsène appear to do, so what’s good for them is good for me.
In six games time we’ll also be in to mid February, having played 26 games and quite crucially, be entering in to a tricky period which starts with Barcelona at home in the midweek. I know I’m talking specifically about the Premier League here, but those big midweek games inevitably have an impact on the team, rotation, etc, so it feels like it makes sense for me to halt my initial predictions there. Then, depending on how these upcoming fixtures play out, I might run through thoughts on the remainder of the season closer to the time.
So, what of the Premier League then, eh? Well, we have Liverpool away, Stoke away, Chelski at home, Southampton at home, Bournemouth away and Leicester at home. It’s a tricky run of fixtures, but I think ones in which we should be expecting to take a decent chunk of points. We’ll have to, because after this run of games it doesn’t get easier, so chalking up a buffer is something that Arsenal have to do if the league is to remain within our grasp.
There’s no doubt the first three of the six are – on paper at least – the most difficult. Liverpool away, despite their current form and league table, are never easy and even in recent seasons when they’ve finished poorly, we’ve tended to see draws rather than victories. That’s what I suspect we might end up coming away from Anfield with. Liverpool will be up for the game and will most likely have Sturridge back by then, who will be a much more potent threat than Benteke, so I’m not expecting an easy ride.
That game is a midweeker and is followed by the grimmest of fixtures in the calendar: Stoke away. It’s grim not just because of the team and the history we’ve had with the Orc fanbase, but because we rarely go there and get a win, regardless of how Stoke are playing. Last season they battered us and it was only two late goals that gave an air of closeness to the game. In truth, we were never in it, so I’m not expecting much from that game. It also doesn’t help that Stoke appear to be finding some form now. If I was to pick a game in which I think we might lose, that would be it.
Chelski at home is the next league fixture we have at The Emirates and having watched them dismantle Palace yesterday, I wonder if the players will visit our home turf in finer spirits than they’ve been all season under Jose. I’d like to think, however, that we will have the upper hand in terms of confidence and so I’m going to try to be positive and suggest we can beat the champions. If we do, I think it’ll put us in a decent position and I’d fancy us to beat Southampton at home, who we always struggle with away but on our patch we usually manage to get the three points. Away to Bournemouth will be tough, but they will come at us, like Leicester will at The Emirates in the subsequent game, so I’d expect it to be more open and for us to get the results.
So that’s four wins, a draw and a defeat I have us down for. That’s 13 points from a possible 18. Would you take it if it was offered to you now? I think Leicester will drop points too, as will City during this period – given the nature of how the league has gone so far this season – and given that we’re three clear of the Mancunians, we could be level on points or perhaps even one or two ahead. I’d take that. I know it’s a lot of ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’, it’s surely not going to all end up as I’ve suggested, but if we do take 13 points it would leave us on 55 with another 36 to play for. I think this season could be won by a team that hits the 80 mark, perhaps even less, so it would still be doable for us if we’re on 55 with 12 to play.
Speculative blog today, I know, but like I said, it’s that time of the year. Let’s hope we’re as consistent in 2016 as we were in 2015.