As my previous post suggested, reaching irrational conclusions is the Achilles heel of the footballing world.
Unsurprisingly, irrational conclusions can be drawn more than once in a week. On November 27th, when Arsenal were comprehensively outplayed by Chelsea, their title bid was considered dead and buried. Now after an excellent comeback against Bolton saw them extend their unbeaten run to eight games, not only do they actually sit atop the league, they supposedly possess the fortitude to stay there.
The praise is a deserved reflection of a turnaround few would have thought likely, and the hyperbole thrown at the Gunners is more deserved than that which followed Wednesday’s Liverpool-Tottenham game.
However, amongst some rightful praise a few salient points should be taken into consideration. Firstly Arsenal’s recent run has seen them beat a stagnating Stoke, a depressingly low on confidence Liverpool, rubbish Hull, penniless Portsmouth and now Bolton, twice. Any side with title pretensions should win those games, no question. These wins were also coupled with some very disappointing draws; in slack fashion at Burnley, and then extremely fortunately at home to Everton. Only the 3-0 Fabregas led demolition of Aston Villa signals a significant performance. So close has the margin been between success, and disaster. All of this alongside Chelsea’s perplexingly poor form, a run unlikely to be repeated regularly.
Much of the praise since garnered has reflected that some of the games were won playing badly, with a raft of injuries and mental knocks that might have derailed previous Arsenal teams. Yet the fact remains that these games were winnable. To an extent, the praise is worthy, but whether it will remain so will be seen between now and February 17th.
Arsenal’s next four league fixtures are Aston Villa away, Manchester United at home, Chelsea away, and Liverpool at home. This demanding run is bookended by the pressure of potentially two tough FA Cup ties, and the first leg of the last 16 of the Champions League.
Only after such a string of fixtures can the mental, as well as technical qualities of this Arsenal side truly be judged. In one month’s time Arsenal could be challenging for major honours on all fronts, or their entire season could be in tatters.
What represents a good return from these fixtures? It will be hard to say, and much depends on the form of Chelsea and Man United, but Arsene Wenger will be looking for at least 9 points. Little else will suffice, especially if defeated by Chelsea.
So feel free to praise Arsenal now, but if people really want to call them worthy of becoming champions, they should wait until the real test. It should be a fascinating month.