Another Weekend In The Bipolar Life Of Arsenal Football Club

So, defeat to Wigan on Monday was annoying to say the least. Even as we sit here several days removed from the event I still feel decidedly irritated about. Not least because it’s a lesson that we’ve been taught over and over again, and only recently before the Wigan game we got our last instalment when QPR beat us because complacency had crept in.

That it manifested itself again in this run in for the Champions League places is nothing short of ridiculous. We’d had warning of the form Wigan were in when they managed to beat Manchester United the previous week, this is a team that specialises in sorting itself out and getting the results necessary to survive late in the day, they were not to be taken for granted and yet somehow they were.

Now, I have every confidence that Chelsea will not advance to the Champions League Final, but if they should, and by some miracle win the cup then we would have had to have finished third in the league to be in the Champions League next season, and that makes this weekend’s game against them absolutely critical. We hold a five point advantage over Spurs and Newcastle who are 4th and 5th respectively, but they have a game in hand. If we were to lose to Chelsea, both sides would have it in their hands to overtake us and eject us from the top four altogether. If we had won the Wigan game, then I’d be pretty confident that victory over Chelsea would have pretty much wrapped up third place for us. As it is now, I think it’s a necessity.

Strangely, I’m not worried that we won’t rise to the occasion tomorrow. The fact is that this Arsenal team reacts better to pressure than it does to expectation (if they could somehow marry the two concepts and manage the pressure of expectation we’d be laughing) and I think that we have every chance of beating a distracted Chelsea team at the weekend. A game against Chelsea is exactly the sort of thing that Arsenal have done very well with this season. It’s the subsequent games against Stoke, Norwich and West Bromwich Albion that make me wonder. 

Which is not to say I’m taking victory for granted tomorrow. It’s always tough to play Chelsea, we’ve had the measure of them in recent meetings but they’re looking resurgent under the management of Bob Matthews, and that diabolical swine Didier Drogba has been fit and on form in the last two games, though I wonder if with his advancing years he might not start tomorrow in order to be in top shape for Barcelona in the Nou Camp. 

For our part, the team news could be better with the news that Mikel Arteta will miss the remainder of the campaign with the injury he picked up the other night. Arteta has been a consistently excellent performer this season, and when he missed a few weeks earlier in the season we noticeably suffered for his absence. Fingers crossed that we can manage better this time. Aaron Ramsey will undoubtedly come in, and he’s been finding it hard to get a place in the team lately so he needs to make the most of this chance. Yossi Benayoun in ineligible tomorrow which is a shame as this is exactly the sort of match the manager picks him for because of his hard work, experience, and most importantly his habit of doing exactly what he’s told to do. Other than that, there must be a blue moon about as Abou Diaby is back in contention to be in the squad.

Arsene Wenger says it’s all about finishing third for us. That’s what we need, that’s what we want and it’s the only thing that will guarantee Champions League football next season so we have to take our opportunities for the rest of the season. As the manager says,

“I don’t know [how many more wins we need], we just want to win the next one. I believe our target is just that. We have to think that we have been on a great run, we have a fantastic opportunity but we also just need to focus on the next game and win it.

“Only the third place guarantees you to be in the Champions League anyway.”

There are four games left. I hate this cliche but we’re talking about four finals – four games where our season really does hang in the balance. There’s my cause and no place for complacency in any of the games and tomorrow we once again face top quality opposition. Time to get very serious indeed.

That’ll be all from me today. Take it easy and I’m back soon.

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