I think it was two weeks ago I mentioned that the buzz of a new season had pretty much worn off and that crunch time was fast approaching. The weeks where there was still ‘time’ to correct mistakes and make up for lost ground look to be well behind us. It’s come to this week, a season defining one. It truly feels like a now or never moment for us as well as a fair few other clubs I’d imagine, but it just seems to feel more significant if you’re an Arsenal fan (objectivity on this one’s hard I know but I’ll explain). If Sp*rs fall away, no one really expected them to win the league so it’s OK. If Liverpool fall away their squad wasn’t quite deep enough so it’s understandable. If Man City fall further away, it’s only Guardiola’s first season. If Man Utd fall further away, it’s only Mourinho’s first season. Even Chelsea have this excuse with Conte, if for any reason they do not end up winning the league. For us at Arsenal however it feels ever more intensified. We have the longest serving and best equipped manager THIS SEASON to win the league. We have the deepest squad that we’ve had in probably the last 10 years. We are out of any real excuses and time has well and truly come to deliver.
We play Watford on Tuesday night at the Emirates which is a must win to keep as afloat in this race and hope that Chelsea drop points vs Liverpool. Then comes part two of a testing week. Chelsea away. If we manage to beat Watford and Liverpool manage to beat Chelsea, a draw at Stamford Bridge would keep us in it. Just. However if Chelsea beat an out of form Liverpool then we absolutely must win against them to have any chance of winning this league. If we can manage to win two out of two this week, there will most definitely be a title race on our hands. If the results don’t go our way I feel that there will be too much to psychologically repair in order to make the step to be Champions of England. It’s a big week no doubt about it and one that will fully test our squad as to whether it can really sustain a title challenge. I don’t think it’s quite the same as going to a Chelsea of years gone by in more hope than expectation, there is a real belief around this season, however whilst we may have a good enough squad and first XI there is that ‘mental’ barrier that we need to break. That’s where our biggest problem lies and if we can banish the big game mentality that we currently seem to carry, and winning two games this week will go a long way to doing that, it might just be the mental push we need to go on and challenge right until the end. People may suggest this is similar to the moment at which we played Leicester last season, however I don’t think that beating them gave the players the belief last season as they didn’t really believe that Leicester’s challenge would last. This time around they not only know that complacency is not an option but they also know that Chelsea are no Leicester City. They’ve been there and done it and are most definitely in the driving seat this season. Even if the results go our way this week we would still be 2 points behind them. They can afford a few slips yet as I can’t imagine the rest of the league to be flawless from now until the end. Thankfully for us the likes of Welbeck and Walcott are back in and around the squad who will really give us another dimension going forward and give our opponents a little more to think about. There is a hell of a long way to go before anything is decided and it’s up to us to keep it that way. Come on The Arsenal.
To the FA Cup. We played a much changed Southampton side due to their League Cup exploits and understandably they weren’t quite the same tough to break down team that we are used to facing. This was however counterbalanced by our quite unusual starting XI. The back four was fine, however the eyebrows were raised when we read that The Ox would play alongside AMN in the middle of the park with The Jeff just in front. Lucas and Walcott returned on the flanks with Danny Welbeck up top, who interchanged well with Lucas. Heavily attacking but questions remained on the defensive side. Our worries needn’t have bothered as our experimental team selection paid off with aplomb. Danny Welbeck began the fun with two brilliant finished following some great build up play beforehand. The third was a result of some accidentally awful defending from the Southampton new boy Jack Stephens who smashed the ball into one of his own players and the ricochet fell to us on the left hand side. Some decent build up play led to a half chance that really should have been cleared, but some laziness coupled with excellent poaching from Walcott meant it was game over before the half was up. The second half followed the same pattern and more incredulity followed when Alexis was brought on. Yes it probably didn’t look as though it made too much sense and I understand that part as I was a little aghast at the sight of him coming on when the game looked to be done. However it once again was a brilliant move as it helped to nullify the threat of Redmond as well as give us more potency on the counter, and it told with him being the provider of two assists for Walcott to complete his hat-trick. This all happened with Arsene Wenger sat in the stands, serving the first of his 4 match touchline ban. The debate has been whether this is too much/not enough/just right in terms of punishment, however as the brilliant Arseblog pointed out Alan Pardew received a 2 match ban for something that was probably a little worse. In my eyes it was about right and there are plenty of quite moronic fans/journalists suggesting it wasn’t enough. These are the same fans that were quite happy to cede that John Terry’s ban for RACISM was fair at 4 games. If you’re telling me that on the one hand there needs to be a discussion around Wenger however on the other are happy to back a racist man then I’m afraid your opinion means jack shit, excuse the expletive. His act alongside that of Luis Suarez were season long bans at the bare minimum in my book. Imagine any one of you and I being racist in our place of work? We would be invited along to a meeting with HR followed by an invitation to leave the company we work for. People will ask me my opinion on Xhaka – it’s the same. If proven guilty the book should be thrown at him. Anyway, Wenger’s ban seems fair is what I’m getting at and anymore than 4 games then the FA would be saying a slight push is worse than racism. Football wise we had as good a weekend as we could have hoped for in the lead up to a huge week.
Lastly Twitter tells me that Roger Federer is an Arsenal fan and I’d just like to take a moment to congratulate him on a quite magnificent achievement. He’s 35 years old off the back of a 6 month lay off due to injury and has just managed to win his 18th Grand Slam with the Australian Open. An incredible achievement. Not only that but it was the way he’d done it that had me speechless. In 5 sets against a man who is likely to be far fitter than he. Incredible. What I most loved about it were his boyish reactions to winning the tournament. It has been 5 years since his last Grand Slam win and he’d been written off by a fair few so to see him jump as if it were his first Grand Slam was a great sight. Well done Roger Federer.
Now for a great week of football please – Up The Arsenal.
Follow me on Twitter @MiteshLakhani1.