Arsenal are Still in the Title Hunt Despite Man United Draw

It’s been a tough few days for Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger. On Saturday lunchtime, he witnessed his team’s most lacklustre performance since that day at Old Trafford in 2011, and four days later had to suffer the frustration of failing to break down Manchester United at the Emirates.
 
afc mancs
 
We always knew mid-February could define our season and, with a 5-1 defeat and 0-0 all we have to show for it so far, an air of pessimism has percolated into the minds of fans. Indeed, Arsenal’s title odds have soared from 3/1 to 8/1  on some football betting websites.
 
The squad have received most of this ire, with below-par Mesut Ozil a particular target, but Wenger himself has come in for criticism in the live football commentary for his failure to sign players in January  when our squad was burning low on fuel.
 
Sadly, history is history and if we all sit here and moan then we could end up in the situation we were two years ago, when even finishing in the top four was questionable. Let’s appreciate what we’ve got.
 
And let’s face it, Arsenal are still second in the league, just a point behind the leaders who dropped points against a much weaker team than United, West Brom, on Tuesday. Man City may have a game in hand but, as they say, they’ve still got to win it and, with their congested Champions League schedule, fitting in a home tie with Sunderland will be tough.
 
Meanwhile, Liverpool and Tottenham’s resurgences are probably just that and, with our three-point buffer over these two clubs, we should have enough to stave them off. So what’s all the complaining about? We’re in a far healthier position right now than we have been for years and both Chelsea and City have shown they are as prone to burnout as we are.
 
Thankfully, our FA Cup clash with Liverpool on Sunday gives us something different to focus on. It is evident that the stress of the title race gets to teams at some point in the season and we must not forget that we won five league games on the bounce in December/January, a feat that was never realistically going to be kept up.
 
Enjoy your day people.
 
Guest post brought to you courtesy of M. Weaver

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Wenger Must Favour Liverpool FA Cup Clash Above Bayern

 
As if February was not hard enough. Arsenal, who have a home tie with Manchester United sandwiched between a trip to Anfield and the first leg of our Champions League clash with Bayern Munich – all within 11 days – must now fit in another clash with Liverpool after the FA Cup fifth-round draw was made on Sunday.
 
Four games in 11 days is tough but these four games is near ridiculous. Not even the most optimistic of fans who bet on football are backing us to win all four, and it will be interesting to see how manager Arsene Wenger guides his team through this tricky schedule.
 
The first is a booby trap waiting to happen. Liverpool are free scoring at Anfield and although we comfortably beat them 2-0 earlier this season, this clash will be no easy affair. Luis Suarez has his tail up and defensive duo, Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny, must keep him at bay.
 
Indeed, the pair are the keystone to Wenger’s plans over this coming month, for if Mertesacker and Koscielny can stay fit we might just come through unscathed.
 
They must next handle Robin van Persie at our place – something Thomas Vermaelen failed to do last time – while the midfield will be introduced to Jose Mourinho’s double agent, Juan Mata, who this week signed for United for £37.5m.
 
With the visit of Bayern coming after a second clash with Liverpool, Wenger must decide how seriously he wants to win the FA Cup. Thankfully, the draw has also pitted Man City against Chelsea, so victory over Liverpool means Arsenal have just one realistic rival for the trophy.
 
bayern
 
Wenger is of course going to play full-strength sides in the league, but should he sacrifice a potential spanking at the hands of Bayern for safe passage into the FA Cup quarter-finals? It’s a decision that will keep the boss awake this month and one many football betting punters would like to see made , for with the greatest will in the world the Gunners have a better chance of winning the FA Cup than making the Champions League last-eight.
 

Guest post brought to you by M. Weaver

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Can recent history repeat itself against Bayern for Arsenal?

Interesting week ahead for the gunners; a week which has the potential to be the turning point in the fortunes of Arsenal football club. If history manages to repeat itself the game against Bayern could help restore belief amongst the players and fans much like what happened last year in the games against AC Milan. After a horrid 1st leg result against the Italians the team managed to pull off a gallant effort despite still being eliminated. The players were able to walk off the field with their heads held high, pride restored and a renewed belief and support from the fans as they saw out the season into third place.

ox v milan

The game with Bayern requires a massive performance from the players; they owe it to the fans, the manager and themselves to prove they do belong in the champion’s league amongst Europe’s best. The first leg played into Bayern’s hands as morale was low amongst the players and the Germans exploited that. We were totally outclassed and in my opinion at that moment in time it was not a true reflection of Arsenal football club. Now is the opportunity for the club to show they are miles better than that first leg performance.

A gift was presented in the form of Liverpool’s win over Spurs yesterday; the gap can be closed on our North London rivals in the league but a heavy/embarrassing defeat at the hands of the Germans is likely to filter through into the league form. A run of games is required now through to the end of the season, the club cannot afford to be hit and miss any more.

verm v robben

Elimination at the hands of Bayern may not be avoided but it does not mean Arsene’s team cannot pull off a victory on the night and/or produce a reassuring performance to restore pride. A performance of note is likely to be noticed by the Spurs players and the closer the season moves towards squeaky bum time the psychological effect that could have on their players is massive.

The Spurs performance against Liverpool was not bad, it was clear their confidence was up given their recent results and at the point they went 2-1 up the game looked to be theirs to lose. Thankfully for Arsenal fans they tried their best to throw the game away as they gifted two goals to Liverpool. Brain-dead defending which I thought was only a disease Arsenal suffered from this season ensured Liverpool left the game with all the points.

It is the little things that can turn a clubs season upside down, at 2-1 up they looked certain to add another goal and put the game beyond the Scousers however that moment of madness from Walker changed everything and from being at a level high in confidence and cruising the Spurs players now find themselves looking over their shoulder and worrying. Doubt can creep into future performances and if Arsenal takes advantage of the slip up it will make for a very tense run in.

suarez pen

oops…

Chelsea I still believe is the stronger of the two teams above Arsenal and likely to fix their problems while Spurs are the more fragile mentally and the team most likely to be caught. My only hope is the Arsenal mentality will grow stronger based on their Champions League efforts this week.

Enjoy your day people.

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Is Lower League gap closing? F.A. Cup reflection

Well I have to say what a crazy weekend it has been in the FA Cup; shocks a plenty as so-called giants have succumb to the tenacity and spirit of lower league teams. The best thing about the weekend has to be that despite our wobble we managed to dispatch our opponents in Brighton. Arsenal managed to pass their test and avoid being one of the premiership teams to hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Whistle is blown; game is won and successful passage into the next round achieved; no shameful exit and no unwanted replay on the agenda. It seems a long time since we were able to glide under the radar unnoticed and I quite like it that way.

Now our focus turns to Wednesday against Liverpool, the fans are happy and now it’s down to Arsene Wenger to ensure that the weekend’s events do not spawn any complacency. Liverpool will be down but it can certainly act as a motivation for them to right their wrongs with an instant response against us. Arsenal need to want it more than Liverpool and that means we need to turn that spring in our step into a determined and focused stamp of intent.

It’s a bit too early for a pre-match review of the Liverpool game on Wednesday so I will turn my attentions back to the giant killing of the weekend. It certainly raises the question of whether the gap in quality from the elite in the premiership is becoming shortened against lower placed teams.

In Arsene’s long stint as manager he managed to hold onto a record of never losing to lower league opposition in cup football. That was broken eventually against Burnley a few years ago when he fielded a young team in a quarter-final of the Carling Cup. Even then it was shrugged off because of the team selected; fast forward to this season and the loss on penalties to Bradford in the Capital One Cup. On this occasion we selected the strongest team we possibly could in that tie, no kids were anywhere near the starting eleven or the bench and yet we managed to go out of the competition.

bradford fc Jack Wilshere

Bradford fans celebrate around Jack

 

We may not have been outplayed by Bradford and it did seem it was one of those days where nothing seemed to work for the team but at the end of the day given the standing of both clubs in their respective leagues there should have only been one outcome. We went out and will always look back on that moment with embarrassment and as a permanent reality check in our clubs history.

Now you look at that result and say Bradford played the game of their lives and should enjoy the moment before being brought back down to earth in the Semi’s against Aston Villa. Yes Villa was at the time going through one of their worst runs of form in recent years but they had two legs to get it right. How wrong were we? Bradford took the game to Aston Villa, refused to bow down to Premier league opposition and deservedly earned their place in the League Cup Final against Swansea City.

Now we look at the results pulled off by the likes of Leeds, Oldham and Luton Town. When the fourth round draw was made you would be forgiven for assuming you would see Tottenham, Liverpool and Norwich in the draw for the fifth round of the FA Cup. One upset out of the three at a push but for all three to finish in favour of the underdog is quite a feat. Each of those teams deservedly won their games and the fans of those premiership teams cannot begrudge them their moment.

Leeds celebrate

Leeds celebrate against Spurs

 

Is the gap closing on the elite because of a raise in standard of lower league teams or is the so-called quality of the elite teams that are going out to these lower league teams reducing. I will include Arsenal in this question because of the Bradford result; you could probably say it’s a mixture of both factors. We certainly would not expect such results in the days of Vieira and Henry and even the most positive of Arsenal fans would admit our standard has declined over recent years; the lack of silverware is evidence enough.

Lower league teams have stepped up their quality over the years, gone are the days where every league below the premiership resorted to long ball football. As more and more young managers influenced by the workings of their successful managers from their playing days bring to their new jobs all the techniques they learned it becomes a lot evident when you watch lower league games in action. You will still get the odd long ball teams but there is a growing number of more and more passing teams that play good football in the championship and lower divisions.

oldham celebrate

Oldham celebrate Liverpool scalp

 

One other massive factor I would highlight from the recent giant killing is the psychological focus that is maintained by the underdog teams. They fight like it is their life depended on it and when watching the games you can see that they want it that bit more than their more privileged opponents. Complacency is a big failing in the so-called big teams and the managers struggle to motivate their players to give 100% when they know they are playing smaller teams.

It has reached the point where a top-tier team has to psychologically prepare for a game against Luton town the same way they would against Barcelona. It’s easier said than done and that is one of the failings that stun some of these top teams. It isn’t a case of just turning up and expecting the opposition to be star struck by your attendance.

That is exactly why the next round for Arsenal against Blackburn cannot be taken lightly; we know them well from their time in the premiership but given their standing now we will have to expect demand a fully focused performance.

It is our last realistic chance of silverware this season (the Champions League though not impossible will be a tough task) and the Bradford result should be motivation enough to not take this game for granted.

Enjoy your day people.

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