Wednesday, 2 March 2011

♫ How do you solve a problem like the Arsenal? ♪

After a shocking Carling Cup Final defeat by Birmingham, there are now three opportunities for Arsenal to finally win a trophy for that ever-bare looking cabinet: the FA Cup, the Champions League and the Premier League. As a fan, I would love Arsenal to win them all but I severely doubt it’s possible, as we have just reached that inevitable point in our season where our key players have gotten themselves injured (Fabregas and Van Persie are prime examples) and there’s a lot of blame to be shouldered by Wenger’s transfer policy (why hasn’t he bought a solid, world-class defender or goalkeeper in the last three seasons?).

The FA Cup: I would say this is our best chance because we ‘only’ have to beat Leyton Orient, but as we have already seen, they are true fighters and Arsenal LOVE to throw away a lead (nobody mention Newcastle). I believe beating Orient is possible, especially as we’re at home for the replay, but we have to be at our best and this may not be possible with Van Persie currently ruled out for three weeks after damaging his knee in the Carling Cup Final and Cesc on the sidelines after pulling a hamstring. Jack Wilshere has really stepped up to the level of Premier League football and he was our best player against Birmingham so I believe he will play a key role in the Orient match, thereby lessening the effect of Fabregas’ withdrawal. However, Bendtner and Chamakh have not been up to scratch lately and I worry where we will get goals from.

A further disadvantage of our FA Cup run is that we potentially face Man Utd in the next round which will be played next Saturday. Firstly, Man Utd are always going to be tough to beat and secondly, this will form part of ‘KILLER WEEK!’, as I have affectionately decided to call it, which includes the 2nd leg of the Champions League match against Barcelona.

Although I am fairly confident we will beat Orient, the prospect of Man Utd in the next round is daunting and I’m sure the players feel it too.

The Champions League: As I mentioned above, if Arsenal progress in the FA Cup, they will face Man Utd and a so-called ‘KILLER WEEK!’ will take place. Two big matches in the space of 5 days could mean players lose focus, not to mention the increased risk of injury through fatigue, for either or both of the matches. On the positive side, Arsenal won the 1st leg 2-1 at home which boosted confidence in this young team, as Barcelona are widely regarded as the best club football team on the planet. However, this leads to the fact that the away leg is at Camp Nou, an awe-inspiring stadium, and as commentators say ‘It’s a game of two halves’ i.e. anything could happen in the 2nd leg; Arsenal haven’t won the tie yet.

This is perhaps the competition I feel least confident about. Like I said, Barca are in my opinion the best team in the world, playing at their home ground in front of thousands of their fans against an Arsenal team missing key players. Worrying!

And finally, the Premier League: This is perhaps the most do-able for Arsenal as it isn’t a knock-out competition and if we get knocked out of the other competitions, we can focus all our attention on winning the most coveted title in England: Premier League Champions. Admittedly, we face at least three big clubs in our last dozen matches, Man Utd, Tottenham and Liverpool, but we should have our key players back to fitness by then and we often play better against our main rivals. At the time of writing, Man Utd have just had a 6 point lead ahead of Arsenal reduced to 3, thanks to Chelsea. If Man Utd lose just one more of their matches, I truly believe we have what it takes to overcome this 3-point deficit.

So, if I had to make a decision on which one I’d like Arsenal to win most, I’d say the Champions League. It’s a truly spectacular occasion when you beat Barcelona and if we managed to beat them outright, the other teams will seem easy in comparison.

However, if I am being realistic, I’d say the Premier League. Man Utd have slipped up now, giving Arsenal a glimpse of hope at overtaking them and becoming League champions for the first time since the 2003/4 season. I don’t think Arsenal always perform well in cup situations (Wenger for the first time in many years didn’t use the Carling Cup as a platform to ‘blood’ youth players into the first team and despite getting to the final with our regular starting line up, we still didn’t win) but when we have 12-15 league games left, even if we only win 90% of them it’s possible to win the league. We just need a little bit of luck for the results of our competitors to go our way. And this year, I feel LUCKY!!!

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