London- The next four games will tell us everything. Arsenal go to Liverpool today with a chance to extend their lead at the top of the Premier League, even if it may just be for a couple of hours.
Then they entertain Manchester United next Wednesday in another huge test in the battle for the title.
Liverpool come back to the Emirates the following Sunday in the FA Cup fourth round. Then, finally, it is Bayern Munich in the Champions League. Last year, when Arsenal played the eventual winners, the tie was effectively over after the first leg defeat at the Emirates.
So, the next four games – in the space of 11 gruelling days – will define Arsenal’s season. The title race, FA Cup and Champions League could all be decided.
Arsenal, put simply, need a trophy and the pressure is really on now in this tough run of fixtures (not forgetting another daunting run in March when they’ve got Tottenham, Chelsea and Manchester City back to back) to build on their remarkable season.
And no-one should overlook that it’s 24 games into the Premier League season , we’re into February, and Arsenal sit proudly on top of the table. So it is almost unfair to talk about Arsenal needing a point to prove, needing to send a message, show they can win the title. Can they win the title? Of course they can. But it’s all about whether they WILL win the title.
That’s the issue. Arsene Wenger has already admitted on-loan Kim Kallstrom may not play this season. Wenger has also conceded publicly that Aaron Ramsey could be out between six and eight weeks. Although Wenger might have other midfield options, a new striker in January would have given them a lift, in the way Mesut Ozil gave the club a huge boost in the summer window. Since then, Ozil has not been amazing week-in and week-out on the pitch.
But off the pitch, Ozil changed the whole philosophy, lifted the mood and gave them a whole new momentum. Now Arsenal go into this run of games, this incredible test, without a fresh boost and with players missing. Jack Wilshere is hoping to be fit. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain isn’t at his peak level of fitness yet but looked terrific against Crystal Palace last Sunday. There’s a dilemma there who to play alongside Arteta in midfield with Mathieu Flamini banned.
Wenger may be tempted to go with Arteta with Tomas Rosicky or Wilshere alongside him; Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain right, Santi Cazorla left, Ozil behind Olivier Giroud.
Yes, Arsenal are top and have proved their credentials. But winning a big game away from home shows a message of strength, power, belief and confidence that you can win trophies. That’s why Liverpool is so important.
When Arsenal entertained Liverpool in November, the pressure was on as Arsenal had lost in the Capital One Cup to Chelsea, lost at home to Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League and Brendan Rodgers’ men were flying.
But Arsenal were fantastic that day. They overwhelmed Liverpool and established a nice defensive record of being the only team to stop either Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge from scoring when they played together.
Arsenal can take belief from that. A point Arsene Wenger acknowledged when he spoke at his press conference on Thursday ahead of the Anfield game. “It is a good opportunity of course,” said Wenger. “It is a good moment for us to win a big game because we have a tough predicted month.”
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