Arsenal Limp Through February
Arsenal have limped their way out of a February fixture list from hell; they maintain the audacity of hope thanks to beating a hapless Sunderland 4-1 at home last Saturday.
It was a win highlighted by a fantastic trademark Arsenal goal.
Tomas Rosicky authored the build up just inside the halfway line and paragraphs of brilliant combination play ensued.
It was a vibrant anthology of slick one-touch passing – prose that Charles Dickens himself would have been proud of.
A narrative that saw Rosicky continue his running without the ball, ever hopeful of the return, and when it arrived from Olivier Giroud deep in the Sunderland penalty area, he punctuated the move with a neat chip that evaded the onrushing goalkeeper for a tally he will always remember.
It was a goal that Dennis Bergkamp would have surely enjoyed from the stands on the night when Arsenal unveiled the Dutchman’s new statute at the Emirates.
The win has offered Arsenal a glimmer of hope in what was otherwise a mostly dismal month for the Gunners.
As I predicted, at the start of February, Arsenal’s lack of depth has been exposed; and my premonition regarding Mesut Ozil continuing to struggle has come to pass as the club record signing was benched last weekend.
Arsenal were pummeled 5-1 by Liverpool at Anfield, could only salvage a draw with Manchester United, and fell at home to Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League. Matheiu Flamini’s suspension, Aaron Ramsey’s injury, and a lack of an experienced and quality second striker to share the load with Giroud has taken its toll.
Thankfully, a beacon of hope, the most important result of February, was the 2-1 FA Cup victory at home verse Liverpool.
The FA Cup continues to be Arsenal’s best chance at silverware this season.
I said it at the start of February and I’m saying it now.
Writing on the Wall:
Arsenal’s draw for the group stage of the Champions League (Borussia Dortmund, Napoli, and Marseille) could have been formed by the Grim Reaper himself as Arsenal escaped as runners-up from the group of death.
They were then bloodied and gashed in a fixture list from Dante’s Inferno during the month of February.
And here’s the kicker, it doesn’t get any better for Arsenal.
Out of the teams currently in the top four of the Barclays Premier League, Arsenal have the toughest road to the title.
Having survived with moderate to severe burns from the fires of February Arsenal find themselves facing a fixture list of March madness that only the undead would relish.
On March 1, Arsenal travel to Stoke City – a bit of a banana skin for the Gunners in past seasons. The direct and physical approach by Stoke has typically upset the Dial Square boys.
Following Stoke, the games come thick and fast in a period that will further dictate the team’s fate this season:
Everton (home – FA Cup), Bayern Munich (away – UCL), Tottenham Hotspur (home – BPL), Chelsea (away – BPL), Manchester City (home – BPL)
Arsenal then travel to Everton on April 5.
The madness of such a March fixture list could drive any team insane with injury, illness, and fatigue.
Walk the Line:
Arsene Wenger, as a top class manager, would be tarred and feathered in the press and by his peers if he publicly stated that his team’s best chance at ending the eight year trophy drought relied soley on the FA Cup.
A manager cannot inspire by conceding competitions before the games are played.
However, my concern is that Wenger does not understand the stern reality that his team cannot expect to keep pace with Chelsea and Manchester City in the league.
My critics might argue that Arsenal will be one point off the leaders of the BPL come the start of March; and that this should be hailed as a massive achievement.
My critics might argue that as an Arsenal supporter I should call for a trophy challenge on all three fronts.
The fact of the matter is that Arsenal are not there yet.
They have made leaps and bounds since last spring when they went on an incredible run to finish fourth in the league.
But supporters must recognize that this is the first season in a number of years when Arsenal will not have been a selling club but rather a buying club.
We must remind ourselves to walk the line - or at least tow it.
After all, we have the ‘next Nicholas Anelka’ in our ranks; which surley means that Joel Campbell is the next Ian Wright.
Final Thoughts before Stoke:
Perhaps Wenger has realized, by choosing to start Yaya Sonogo in the Champions League, that Giroud needed to be rested for an FA Cup push (or naively, a league run).
Perhaps not starting Giroud had nothing to do with his extracurricular activities.
Wenger has read the tealeaves and benched Ozil – too bad it took missing a penalty in the biggest game of the season for him to become literate on the subject.
My guess is Ozil will be back in the starting 11 this weekend.
I cannot emphasize enough that starting both Falmini and Mikel Arteta together is the key to success for the Gunners.
The 4-2-3-1 formation is Arsenal's best and most balanced lineup with Flamini and Arteta as the anchoring midfielders to protect the back four.
Let the Gunners continue to push hard for the league…
All the while maintaining a clear focus on the Football Association Challenge Cup.