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Arsenal Restore Pride & Maybe Some Self-Belief

Arsenal 1 – 0 Manchester United

1 – 0 Ramsey (56)

A reminder of what might have been as Arsenal won the match so long noted as a title decider. It may yet be but not for Arsenal. Instead their season received a late filip, bringing the poor results of the past eight Premier League matches into sharp focus.

Having failed to beat Manchester United in any competition since November 2008, this win is welcomed, putting to an end the recent bad run against ‘Big Four’ clubs. Champions League football for next season was sealed with this win, St Totteringham’s Day became a reality bar goal difference but more important than either of those was the restoration of pride in the team.

The win was thoroughly deserved. United were subdued by Arsenal’s passing and battling qualities. Too often the Arsenal midfield has been criticised for being cowed by their Mancunian peers. Yesterday, Aaron Ramsey was drafted in to replace the injured Cesc, partnering Alex Song as the deeper of the trio, allowing Jack Wilshere to roam further forward.

It worked well as the younger players displayed the combative qualities so often missed in these encounters. They enhanced this with a range of passing and clever use of the ball that belied their youth.

The advanced play by Wilshere almost paid early dividends. Walcott’s cross was not cleared properly, Wilshere with his sight of goal blocked, dragged his shot wide. It was to be a good afternoon for Walcott. His wide play was excellent and when the spaces were created in the middle, he filled them almost instinctively, marginally failing to break the deadlock in the first half when he got between Ferdinand and Vidic.

The early pressure had United rocking, Evra denied the waiting Walcott, turning Wilshere’s searching cross behind for a corner. The directness of Arsenal’s play was negating United’s attempts to flood the midfield, the hosts spraying passes to either flank for raiding wide men to wreak havoc with the full backs.

If the attack was on form, so was the defence. Fabio dithered as Sagna made a crucial intervention midway through the half whilst Koscielny and Djourou were confident in controlling Hernandez and Rooney.

Much was made beforehand of Chris Foy’s record in officiating Manchester United matches, his decision not to award a penalty to Arsenal emphasising the point. Walcott’s rapier break on the right produced a telling cross, Vidic flicking the ball away with his hand from the head of van Persie. The Arsenal captain was not amused, berating the linesman about his lack of a decision. Genuine disbelief engulfed the stadium.

Foy and his team were incompetent in an even -handed way though as Clichy’s stamp on the calf of Owen went unpunished in the second half as United frantically sought an equaliser. This does not excuse the continued underperformance of the referees employed by the PGMO.

Throughout the season genuine grievances have been raised by most clubs about poor decision-making. It is inconceivable in any other sphere that video technology would not be used, that provenly incompetent officials would be perceived as infallible by the lawmakers. But this is football and reality does not apply.

The first half ended goalless, Nasri’s hamstring tweaked allowing the introduction of Andrey Arshavin. It was not the only change. United were more interested in the second half and the potential of Wojicech Szczesny crystallised once more into a confident display, beating away Rooney’s freekick and recovering his position quickly enough to ensure that had Evra’s follow-up not found the sidenetting, it would have found the Pole’s frame instead.

It was a false dawn though. van Persie created space and time on the right and with Aaron Ramsey demanding the ball as if a precocious child, the Dutchman’s pass invited the finish it received. Credit too for Ramsey’s mental approach; under pressure of the tackle, it would have been understandable had he been reticent to attack the ball but there was no perceivable hestitation in the finish. Next week’s visit to Stoke will really put that attitude to the test.

With the deadlock broken United were required to push forward more forcefully yet the Arsenal players held their shape, kept their concentration and applied themselves to stifling the visitors. To a large extent they succeeded, the forlorn appeals for the Owen penalty highlighting the frustration Arsenal were heaping on the Champions-Elect.

Szczesny blocked Nani’s late effort on the counter whilst Vidic might have done better immediately after the goal, managing only a wayward header rather than the piercing equaliser. Yet Arsenal held firm, retained the ball and forced United into blind alleys. It was not the perfect home performance but compared to the past two months, it was a vast improvement.

‘ til Tomorrow.

United We Stand Or Divided We Fall?

Manchester United arrive at The Emirates for the match that will decide the outcome of the Premier League title. Victory for the hosts today followed by defeat for today’s visitors next weekend, will see the Premier League trophy back in London.

A fortnight ago, that sentence would have ended with Arsenal. Now it is Chelsea. Such are the fickle fortunes of football; so wafer thin is the margin of error. The recriminations will continue long into the summer, the entrées have been served over recent weeks.

Today though, is a chance to put that to one side. A victory will not make the Arsenal world right but it will make it a happier place to be. Orbinho came up an interesting stat on Twitter yesterday: The 1st time Arsenal went 3 home league games without a win under Arsene Wenger was in Nov 2001. The run ended with a 3-1 win over Man Utd.

Whilst a similar result today might just hand the title momentum to Chelsea, frankly I’m not bothered. Victory over United might go some way to laying the ‘big game bottlers’ tag that has been handed to Arsenal. Defeat will simply serve to reinforce the prejudices which are being served with some relish.

By Wenger letting the players accept responsibility, Winter means let the press hang them out to dry instead of dealing with matters behind closed doors. The self-importance of the media knows no bounds.

The players have taken responsibility, all of the comments that have been made recently by Djourou, Sagna and Walcott have been mea culpa. Of course, Winter’s perception of weakness is one viewed oppositely by the players,

The great thing about our manager is he always deflects things on to himself and keeps things completely away from the team. But that is where we need to help him out and we haven’t done that in previous weeks.

Thus spake Theo. There is an underlying reason for this desire,

Maybe instead of waiting for things to happen, we are going to make things happen. We need to do it for him. He has shown so much belief and support in us – and the fans have done exactly the same thing.

In other words, the behind the closed doors meetings alluded to by Sagna have seen the players accept their failings. Now it is all well and good have these clear the air talks but unless something comes of them, they are pretty pointless.

Today is the chance for that to happen. Finishing the season on a high with victories in the final four fixtures will not ease the pain but restore the confidence which has been so sorely missing in recent weeeks.

The team will not be showing many changes from last Sunday, if any. Thomas Vermaelen has apparently come through the reserve outing against Manchester United’s equivalents in midweek but this is too soon, surely? Wenger noted that it was but things may have changed over the bank holiday.

Which means that the individuals who succumbed meekly at The Reebok have the chance to rectify the situation:

Szczesny; Sagna, Koscielny, Djourou, Clichy; Fabregas, Song, Wilshere; Walcott, van Persie, Nasri

We know how United will play against Arsenal, they have done so successfully in recent seasons by flooding the midfield and hitting on the counter. Patrice Evra took time to change his tune to being wary of the Arsenal players’ wounded pride, as opposed to his usual bellicose dismissal of boys against men.

Arsenal can win this match, at home they have proven this season that they are not afraid of the top four. Yet those were wins achieved when confidence was high. More than anything, Arsenal have shown that they are brittle in that respect at the moment. A win today would do much to restore the mental toughness required next season.

Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.

Cup Distractions Over, Now Concentrate On The League

FA Cup Quarter Final
Manchester United 2 – 0 Arsenal

1 – 0 Fabio (28)
2 – 0 Rooney (49)

Arsenal’s quest for silverware is now down to one. Following on from the midweek defeat and failure to lift the Carling Cup – where did this new media angle of being ‘dumped out’ of a competition with two teams left, spring from? – the exit from the FA Cup is deeply disappointing, especially as Arsenal were the dominant team. And we had the obligatory poor challenge from Paul Scholes that went unpunished. It was usual Old Trafford fare…

Manchester United though have made a fine art of absorbing Arsenal pressure and lining eight players across their penalty area proved a barrier too far for the visiting talents. The lack of guile too often left Robin van Persie isolated in attack, reducing the attempts on goal to be restricted to efforts from distance, gobbled up gleefully by Edwin van der Sar.

Matters took a turn for the worst when Johan Djourou dislocated his shoulder, the manager advising that the Swiss defender’s season is over. With Thomas Vermaelen seemingly unlikely to return before the next campaign, Arsenal’s injury list is growing just as the business end of the season is upon us.

Post match, Arsène bemoaned how bad the luck of the squad is at the moment yet in conceding both goals, his XI were architects of their own downfall. The first goal came as a result of a direct counter-attack by the hosts. van der Sar relased the ball quickly following the breakdown of Arsenal pressure. Rooney broke and found Hernandez at the far post, his header pushed away by Almunia, Fabio the quckest to react, pouncing and putting United ahead.

It was a poor goal to concede; Arsenal were slow to react across the pitch, starting with the forwards and midfield when van der Sar released the ball to Djourou and Koscielny who were beaten by their opponents rather too easily. Arsenal had received a warning prior to that, Rafael blazing a header over from another swift United break.

Arsenal almost clawed the deficit back immediately. van Persie had a curling shot clawed away by his countryman before he met Nasri’s corner with power but could not guide his header into the net. Arsenal continued to press but the only real chance in the remainder of the half came when Samir Nasri tried to catch van der Sar unawares with a low shot through a defender’s leg; he didn’t and Arsenal were left trailing at the interval.

Within minutes of the restart, an opportunity to equalise had gone begging and the deficit was doubled. Koscielny and Arshavin fashioned an opening for the centre back who hesitated and in the ensuing challenge, fashioned a cross. van der Sar saved, the rebound came to the Frenchman who found once more the Man of the Match in his way.

It was to prove costly almost immediately. Rafael beat Gibbs comfortably, Hernandez found Djourou in the way, the ball squirming through the air to Rooney who guided it in via the far post, tantilisingly away from Sagna.

Arsène immediately brought Chamakh into the action, the Moroccan followed Nasri in shooting straight at van der Sar. It was a common theme of the match, Arsenal keeping the Dutchman busy with routine saves. Only once did it seem he might be beaten, Chamakh meeting Sagna’s cross but alas nothing could be garnered from the header. Rosicky tested with a venomous strike, more of a test than his air kick when unmarked on the edge of the six yard box late on.

It is a poor result, capping a miserable few weeks. Yet such is the nature of professional football, the manager, the players and coaching staff must all dust themselves down, pick heads up and get on with it. And we must do the same. Allow the media to conduct the bitching, backbiting and derision; they are so good at negativity.

Still it could be worse Arsène, you might work for MirrorFootball and the Sunday Mirror, never noted for its reporting accuracy…

’til Tomorrow.

Manchester United Preview: Arsenal Are Being Underestimated…

For the first time since 1906 Arsenal travel to Manchester United for an FA Cup Quarter Final tie, hoping to repeat their victory of 95 years ago. It is the thirteenth time the two sides have met in this competition, the previous twelve seeing an even split of victories.

Arsenal will be boosted by the continued return of Robin van Persie, skipper for the day in the absence of Cesc Fàbregas. The visitors have not scored a goal from open play in an FA Cup tie against United since the 2-0 victory in 2003.

Much is being made of the defeat in Barcelona requiring victory to put the season back on track, consecutive losses in ‘big’ games will condemn Arsenal to another season in the doldrums.

Or at least that is the logic of those with a negative agenda. There is, of course, evidence of previous seasons to support it but another angle worth remembering is the exit of The Invincibles from the Champions League and Manchester United in quick succession. Victory over Liverpool in the Premier League had that season back on course in no time at all.

Arsène gave the theory some credence,

We need it I must say, because we need help. We have been touched severely recently and we are chasing after a win of that type. We will try to win.

We need to keep the right attitude to turn the luck around on our side a little bit.

There is no doubt that the defeat to Barcelona will have hurt, especially knowing that somehow destiny had been grasped close to the Arsenal bosom, if only for three minutes. Yet this should be a spur for the team. Rightly chastised for their unadventurous performance, the defensive nature exacerbated by Robin van Persie’s dismissal, the criticism ought to provoke a strong reaction, overriding the negativity of defeat. Whether it will or not remains to be seen.

The last time that Arsenal travelled to Old Trafford for an FA Cup tie, Arsène fielded a weaker than usual team, the naivety of their play ruthlessly exposed by a strong United XI, compounded by the sending off of Emmanuel Eboué early in the second half. The game had gone by that time.

This time around, United’s injury list is longer than Arsenal’s. Ferdinand, Park, Nani and Valencia are all definitely out. The latter trio ensure that Ferguson will flood the midfield, numbers overwhelming the Arsenal intricacies. Few can argue that it has been anything other than successful in this fixture over the years.

In all competitions, Arsenal have won only one of their last eleven visits, eight of which have ended in defeat with a miserly three goals scored since eliminating United from the FA Cup in 2003. It is a poor record and one that Arsenal will seek to reverse.

Today’s team will see a few but not many changes to the starting line-up. With Cesc out, Wenger has to decide whether Samir Nasri reverts to the central role and Eboué the right or if Aaron Ramsey has sufficiently recovered from his injury to allow a resumption of the central midfield duties that he was carrying out with great promise before The Boot Of Ryan intervened.

Today might be that day. There has to come a point when Ramsey returns to the first team and whilst he might not have played ninety minutes of every match at Nottingham Forest or Cardiff, his loan spells will have hastened his recovery. This evening will see that completed.

The line-up I expect Arsène to field is:

Almunia; Sagna, Koscielny, Djourou, Clichy; Ramsey, Diaby, Wilshere; Nasri, van Persie, Arshavin

It is an attacking XI; Arsenal are at their best with this style of play and United are not at their strongest. Will defeat be damaging if this line-up were to lose? I do not believe it will be irreversible, especially with a week until the next match.

It is an omen-tastic clash. Twice before during Arsène Wenger’s reign have the two sides met in March; both seasons saw one of the clubs hoist the FA Cup and Arsenal win the Premier League title. Twice before on this date have the two sides met, a goalless draw in 1910 followed by a 4-2 win for Arsenal in 1930.

Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.

Arsenal Fail To Deliver & Get Nothing As A Result

Manchester United 1 – 0 Arsenal

1 – 0 Park (41)

A familiar feeling this morning. Arsenal travelled home from Old Trafford with nothing to show for their efforts, a single goal defeat ending their brief reign at the top. Whilst they were not outclassed, Arsenal cannot really feel aggrieved at losing. Rarely over-run; rarely threatening. It was a performance which never threatened a goal and United will be happy with the points but also with the manner of victory, containing Arsenal with relative ease.

Quite simply, this match was there for the taking and the Arsenal players never rose to the occasion. Not that they were overawed, more that the level of intensity that was expected never materialised. Too many gave comfortable performances, few took the step further.

Before kick-off, Manchester United were expected to swamp midfield with numbers, a successful tactic from recent encounters and they duly delivered. Either by design or default, it led to a higher number of long ‘passes’ towards the centre of the Arsenal defence.

Overall, the formation and tactics were not pretty but for United they were effective. Defensively, the quality of clearances from the visitors was poor. Too many lacked power and direction, sometimes both; too many ended up ceding possession cheaply.

Arsene chose to highlight the quality of the pitch as a factor in the defeat. Nothing more than a diversionary comment from the manager, seeking to deflect attention from his own team’s shortcomings. Technically proficient players such as those in his squad, will be able to overcome any surface conditions.

Wenger credited United for defending well but in truth their back five had little to do. That state of affairs arose because of the poor quality of Arsenal’s attacking play combined with United snuffling out chances (with relative ease, it must be said) and some appalling officiating.

Humourous comments beforehand about Howard Webb’s allegiances have a hollow ring this morning, certain United players will be thankful for the laxity of his standards. How Bacary Sagna’s shirt being shredded was not as the result of dangerous and reckless play, only Webb knows.

The first half was largely forgettable. Wojciech Szczesney dealt with an early Rooney effort comfortably, as he did with an Anderson free kick. The young Pole had an impressive night. Unable to stop Park’s header, he dealt confidently with everything else United threw at him. The only concern was his distribution which perhaps betrayed his nerves, not that his defenders helped him in this aspect by some appalling back passes.

With half an hour passed, United had a penalty appeal turned down, one that was a clearer offence than that apparently committed by Gael Clichy later on. Marouane Chamakh in meeting a cross, allowed the ball to strike his hand, something over which he had more control than the full back. The actual penalty was baffling and yet unsurprising.

Clichy’s arm was supporting his body weight as the ball bounced off it, hardly stopping any United pressure as the cross was not powerful enough to have gone into the Arsenal area. But the pressure of the Stretford End was too much for the Assistant Referee to bear and he signalled the spot kick to be given. Howard Webb did not need much encouragement. Rooney blew his chance spectacularly, his Waddle-sque kick matched only by the bizarre waddle of his run-up.

The game’s only goal came as the interval approached. United pressed and the defence failed to clear the initial danger adequately. Regrouping and attacking once more, Nani delivered a cross which ended in the net through a mixture of luck and good technique. Park shifted his position and body weight to cushion the header and at least direct it goalwards.

Luck entered the equation as it looped over Szczesny and into the net, close to the post. Some believe the young Pole may have done better but even being closer to his goalline would have made a save extremely difficult, such was the ball’s proximity to post as it entered the net.

The second half saw Arsenal begin with more attacking energy. Rosicky’s cross shot went wide whilst Nasri saw his effort saved by van der Sar at the near post. Not a major threat from either but more than Arsenal had managed in the first half.

United were not without menace themselves; Song headed over the Arsenal bar whilst Rooney was once more denied the Arsenal’s young goalkeeper. Arsenal’s best effort though came when Nasri’s shot was parried by van der Sar, Chamakh failed to get any lift on his rebound, allowing Vidic to slide in and prevent an equaliser.

Overall, it was a performance which gave nothing and received the same. Is there a mental block on the players or manager in these encounters? Fabregas, van Persie and Walcott were unable to influence the outcome, the former pair returning from injury and not at their best. Theo at least provided width, something that had failed miserably to happen with an out-of-sorts Arshavin, Rosicky and Nasri. That trio worked well at Villa Park but it was obvious that it was not effective last night. Perhaps Arsene should have taken an earlier grip and switched them positionally to garner more attacking bite?

First place can be recovered this coming weekend with a home win over Stoke and may not be temporary either, United’s bluster about being able to beat both Arsenal and Chelsea may turn out to be just that unless they improve significantly in their next game. As it is, Arsenal must look inwards and define the qualities lacking last night, the solutions necessary if title-winning consistency is to be developed.

’til Tomorrow.

A Good Signpost But Not A Title Decider

Carlo Ancelotti may have been singing “I’m a Lumberjack” having created a log-jam at the top of the Premier League but Roman Abramovich joining in with the chorus is merely him sharpening his axe in the background. Chelsea’s failure to win at White Hart Lane has presented an opportunity for Arsenal to take a small step away from the pack. The small matter of having to win at Old Trafford for the first time since September 2006. Tonight’s result may not be important in isolation but over the course of the season, the points contribute to the total.

December 13th was a pivotal date in Wenger’s first double season, the home defeat to Blackburn the last time a loss was suffered in the League until the title had been won. Victory this evening could be a similar spur; it would be a strong signal to those who doubt Arsenal’s ability to stay in the title race. Yet a draw is a good point as well, a step up from last season. With the inconsistency of the top four evident – some might say it is improving standards elsewhere, I believe Chelsea and United are noticeably weaker this season – a strong stride away from the pack for six to eight games might be enough to create an irretrievable gap, especially with Chelsea being played in the spell before the end of January.

That is, however, to get ahead of ourselves.

As ever, United’s home record is formidable, seven wins and a draw out of eight. Arsenal go there though having the joint best record away from home in the Premier League. Both of these are the reasons why the two are vying for top spot; their respective away and home records are not the stuff of champions at present.

It wouldn’t however be Arsenal if there was not some injury rumpus before a big game. Cesc will be left to the last minute before a decision is made over his fitness although in these cases, I always think Arsene’s decision is already made and the starting XI picked. A pity if the Spaniard does not play as it would be a chance to ram the ludicrous comparison recently made between Anderson and Fabregas, the United player is apparently better based on a half-decent season. But what of Cesc since the age of sixteen, you say. Insignificant apparently. That and no domestic honours for Fabregas. Curious to ignore international honours but presumably it did not fit the scope of the argument. Or the fragile conclusion it came to. Still, we will leave it Samir Nasri to show Anderson what an in-form midfielder really is.

The fly in the ointment for Wenger is an apparent leg injury to Lukasz Fabianski which means Szczesny is being lined up for a Premier League start. Could it be that the younger of the two Poles will take this chance and usurp the elder with a sterling performance? Manuel Almunia presumably is nowhere near fitness otherwise he would be surely considered ahead of Szczesny, based on Wenger’s comments that his non-representing agent should be ignored when talking of a January move away from Arsenal.

Crucial to success is for Arsenal not to be inhibited in their play this evening. The victory in 2006 came as a result of a dominating performance, the midfield took control from the kick-off and three thoroughly deserved points were garnered with a late winner. A performance which is similarly assertive is required, much the same as that as produced at Villa Park, albeit with more defensive concern. Wenger has for the first time this season, a full strength forward line to choose from. van Persie looked sharp in his link-up play against Partizan and would be my choice to play in the ‘hole’ in a 4-4-1-1 this evening, with Marouane Chamakh the sole striker.

It would mean no place in the starting line-up for Andrey Arshavin, a state of affairs which would be of no surprise but perhaps unlikely. The quartet in midfield – presuming Cesc is not fit to start – would be Song, Denilson, Nasri and Wilshere in that event. I expect United to drop Rooney deeper tonight in a similar formation to Arsenal, looking to swamp the visitors in possession with runners supporting Berbatov. The Arsenal defence needs be wary of pushing forward too frequently, leaving the central pairing exposed as has happened in the past.

Tonight’s line-up I suspect will be:

Fabianski; Sagna, Koscielny, Squillaci, Clichy; Nasri, Song, Denilson, Wilshere; van Persie; Chamakh

Belief is key to victory this evening. The shackles of playing at The Emirates will not keep the midfield in chains nor will it hold them back as can be the case. United should not be underestimated, Ferguson warned of Arsenal’s maturity and aggression putting them on the verge of being considered in the same breath as their predecessors. A good chance to prove him right presents itself. Believe and it will be taken.

Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.

Title Run-In: Hit Or Myth

The title run-in we were told last week by Sir Alex Ferguson, favoured Arsenal. Their opponents were easier, had less to play for and were all emminently winnable games. His theory, presented as if he had invented the wheel by the media, was lapped up and used as the basis for taking seriously the Arsenal title challenge.

It is another avenue exploited as a means of justification for writing Arsenal off following the consecutive defeats by Chelsea and Manchester United. It also denigrates the efforts of the remainder of the season, where to date, Arsenal has performed better against the rest of the Premier League than either of those two sides. You only have to deduct the points earned in the ‘mini-league’ of the top three for evidence of that.

Undeniably, Chelsea has the tougher finish to season as the table below shows (bold indicates home fixtures):

Arsenal Manchester United Chelsea
27/03/2010 Birmingham City Bolton Aston Villa
03/04/2010 Wolves Chelsea Man United
10/04/2010 Tottenham Blackburn Bolton
17/04/2010 Wigan Man City Tottenham
24/04/2010 Man City Tottenham Stoke City
01/05/2010 Blackburn Sunderland Liverpool
09/05/2010 Fulham Stoke City Wigan

The immediate observation is that each side would want to go into the final match at the top, ideally with a points cushion rather than relying on goal difference for all of the opponents on that Sunday have a history of capitulating. Crucially it is the fixtures surrounding these that will have the biggest influence. If Tottenham get to the FA Cup Final, sixth in the Premier League is opened up to the Europa League giving Liverpool and Aston Villa much more to play for. It seems improbable that Liverpool will be in next season’s Champions League and they are struggling if they do not win the Europa League; Tottenham in the Cup Final suits them.

Despite their wretched current form, it would be a major shock if Chelsea do not win at Portsmouth during the week. Were they to fail to do so, they put themselves under tremendous pressure. There are three home bankers in their run-in; tempting as it is to wind any stragglers by claiming that it the matches in which Chelsea play way, those fixtures are the matches that they have against the teams outside of the top seven. The rest? They are truly up for grabs. Chelsea should have beaten Blackburn in the first half by sufficient margin to win the game. They did not and the obvious conclusion is that this was a hangover from the defeat by Internazionale. Perhaps losing to Aston Villa might have a similar effect.

Crucially, all of the top three have derby matches away from home against teams who are fighting for fourth place. Re-arrangement of any matches at this moment in time is a matter of days with nothing being pushed back to the tail end of the season. The team which emerges with seven victories from those games will win the league. Tottenham and Manchester City appear to be the ones who hold the key. They do; the two sides meet at Eastlands on May 5th in a fixture which will surely decide 4th spot in the Premier League. Defeats beforehand will make them more determined in the fixtures inbetween.

Each weekend increases the pressure; none of them teams can afford a defeat in isolation. The margins of error grow ever tighter as the weeks progress. With the perceived and real impact that the 2-2 draw the last time the teams met at St Andrews, this weekend is being built up as a key one for Arsenal. That is before you take into account the home form of Birmingham. This season they have performed well against United and Chelsea. No doubt that will come out in comments from the respective managers this week as part of their attempts to crank the pressure on Arsenal.

It is easy to highlight individual games but Arsenal has to win all seven and has a good chance of doing so, although it may be more realistic to expect a draw or two along the way. United are in the same boat and their meeting with Chelsea will be key for both, winning the match will be of equal importance as not losing it. A draw would suit Arsenal down to the ground.

Arsene Wenger alluded to experience being the key and whilst that is a beneficial factor, an often overlooked aspect is that Arsenal has experience of losing a title rather than winning it. The squad will not want to repeat those emotions and can draw strength should any dark times emerge in the coming months to pull themselves through. There should be no doubt that Arsene will use 2007/08 as a powerful tool to try to push through for the coming games; “You don’t want to feel that bad again, do you?” is as much of a rallying cry as “You’ve been here before; you know what to do“.

It is the tightest title race for years with three teams harbouring real title ambitions. For a squad that has been written off consistently from within and without, it is no mean achievement. Right now, none are settling for second best. Let’s get to winning it.

’til Tomorrow.

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