Happy Friday folks. How are we all doing?
Do you know, with all of the joy of the Arsenal game on Wednesday, I completely forgot that there were FA Cup games going on and as a result I completely missed that the Scum got knocked out to Sheffield United. Hahaha. I remember ready a messaged on Twitter from a Spurs fan listing the teams that had been knocked out of the competition and saying something like “we may never have a better chance to win this”. Well now, how’d that work out for them, eh?
But enough about their misery, let’s focus on us and today Arteta will deliver his press conference ahead of the game at home to Bournemouth tomorrow. The hope is that we have no new injury concerns and maybe we’ll even get an update on Gabriel Jesus. If he can even be in contention for Fulham next weekend that will be massive I reckon. Even if it’s a place on the bench.
Injuries. The curse of any footballer and the curse of football fans alike. They are the horrible thing that can define a season and for where we are right now, I think all of us are just hoping that a core of players that Arteta relies on can maintain their fitness levels between now and the end of May. If we can avoid too many longer-term knocks to key players, we’ll still be in the title hunt come the end of the season.
I’ve seen a few of Arsenal fans over the last couple of days reference the 2007/8 season, given that in that season we were top of the league, on 60 points and had just beaten Manchester City 3-1 with goals from Emmanuel Adebayor and Eduardo. We looked good, we looked on form, we were in a race for top. United were the challengers just two points behind us. On match week 26 we beat Blackburn 2-0 at home and things continued to look rosy. But it was with 11 games to go that the Birmingham 2-2 draw happened and from there it all collapsed.
Those scars still run deep and I myself have referenced that season as the warning flare fired high in to the night sky; we still have a LONG way to go yet. in 2008 we drew 2-2 against Birmingham but were still three points clear. But by match week 30 United had overtaken us and were three clear with eight to go. We fell away and they marched on as the juggernaut under Fergie that they were. We limped over the line and finished third behind United and Chelsea.
I am saying all of this because as I mentioned above, I still carry those scars of that collapse and I still fear it for us, depending on what happens with injuries. In 2008 we lost Rosicky, Robin van Persie picked up knocks, Eduardo was obviously gone and Almunia’s form in goal tanked. But that didn’t all really kick in until match day 27. I’ve said on a couple of podcasts earlier in the season “see where we get to when we’re at 25 games” when people have asked “are you on ‘the train’?” and I have to say I kind of have felt like that since Christmas. “If we’re top of the league by the 25th game then I think I might start to believe” I told myself, deferring my hopes until then. But that is where we are now and I must confess to you that what happened in 2007/8 has me thinking that I need to push back that mini milestone. Instead now I’m looking at the season remaining as a whole block of games and we have 13 left to try to win the league. We are in the conversation, of that I am sure, but Man City are still favourites for a reason. They have done it before, they have a history of going on long winning runs and I think that may now kick in. They play a Newcastle team low on confidence, with whom the goals have dried up as much as the clean sheets. Their last one was an away draw to Palace on 21st January. If they were playing City a couple of months back I might have fancied their chances, but not tomorrow. They are still licking their wounds from a League Cup final defeat and I think Man City might make light work of them tomorrow.
Then City have Palace away, which could be tough, followed by some cup games before they have Liverpool travel to them and whilst in season’s past that might have been a tough opponent, this Liverpool team look pretty poor. Except when we go to Anfield in a few weeks time, of course, when they’ll become peak Pep Barcelona. After that though, City have a run of games that I’m looking at and thinking they’ll probably win them all; Southampton away, Leicester at home, Brighton away, us at home and Fulham away is possibly tricky but they’ll probably get a few points out of that run in. Then it’s another run that you’d expect them to pick up points in Leeds at home, Everton away, then Chelsea at home should be relatively uncomplicated, before finishing away to Brentford. There’s a postponed game at home to West Ham in there somewhere but that will be no problem for them. Some of those matches feel tricky to me, but I’m kind of thinking they’ll probably get 30 points from their last 13 games at least. That gives them 87 points and means we probably need to win at least 10 of our final 13 to be crowned champions. Just my gut feel.
That sounds quite daunting when you think we go away to Liverpool, City and Newcastle, as well as West Ham, Fulham and Forest. We have seven at home and six away. We have to win all of the home games and then three away matches and whilst I’m looking at West Ham, Forest and Fulham as an opportunity, I think we might slip up in one of those – probably unexpectantly – which will probably need we’re going to have to win one of City, Liverpool or Newcastle away.
What we can’t afford is a 2007/8 slip. That goes without saying I know, but Arteta needs to ensure his players remain super focused, super sharp, that some of our returning players from injury can step up and start firing on all cylinders and we can find a ay to win those 10 games I say we need.
This team has showed so much already. They have been brilliant up until this point and no Arsenal fan wants to talk about the title yet. But we’re getting close to the time where we won’t be able to resist ourselves.
Catch you all tomorrow.