Chelsea’s progress to the FA Cup semi-finals has benefitted Arsenal unintentionally. Meeting Manchester City on the day they were due to face Tottenham in the Premier League means another midweek match for both clubs, most likely towards the end of the season should either win their Europa League Quarter-Final tie. The ideal scenario is for Chelsea to do that and win the FA Cup semi-final. It means two games a week between now and the end of the season with their Tottenham fixture put back to May 7th at the earliest.
The pressure would be on the both sides – so this theory goes – by then. Arsenal must win this weekend at The Hawthorns to keep pressure on third and fourth place, overtaking Chelsea for twenty-four hours and closing the gap to one point on Tottenham before both of those sides play their home fixtures on Sunday against Sunderland and Everton respectively. I would not expect di Canio to have any massive galvanising effect for The Black Cats in that match but Everton is a tricky fixture. The Toffees visit White Hart Lane, The Emirates and Stamford Bridge before the end of this campaign so like Fulham who face Chelsea and Arsenal shortly after beating Tottenham, can have a massive input on the season’s end.
Crucially, once this weekend is over, Arsenal play three Premier League matches by the time Tottenham kick-off against Manchester City on 21st April. Taking twelve out of twelve is asking a lot of the team but that is the requirement if pressure is to be put on those who live in the dark side of North London. If results play out to Arsenal’s favour, they could be second, level on points with Manchester City and five more than Tottenham before that whistle blows for kick-off. Psychologically, that initiates a huge sea-change in pressure with again a significant lead in the Premier League table thrown away by Tottenham.
That said, there are many ifs and buts for the scenario to play out, not least of which is Arsenal taking maximum points from games that yielded two wins, a draw and a defeat in last season’s corresponding fixtures. The last three games have seen silly mistakes minimalised and progress made in performance levels. Mikel Arteta argued that the less intense fixture list for March helped the club and it is hard to contradict him given the situation the club now finds itself in. It is too soon to herald a complete reversal of fortune – perhaps even tempting fate – until the results are delivered; you sense that this progress has been made because the players looked at the next game rather than ifs, whats and maybes. If that is how the steady closing of the gap has arisen, then let them retain that short-termism to achieve relative success.
Key to that will be an injury-free squad, as much as is possible. Nacho Monreal will be missing for a short time but Kieran Gibbs return alleviates that pressure whilst Arsène will hopefully get the nicest kind of headache that a manager can have when Jack Wilshere is deemed fit. The scattergun approach to transfer gossip saw Marco Reus targetted by a laughable Sunday Mirror suggestion that £70m be spent on buying the best players from Borussia Dortmund. It was a touch early for Steve Stammers to claim “April Fool!“; Reus was effusive in his praise of Wilshere and also Tomas Rosicky. He displayed a similar reverence to that of Thomas Eisfeld who admitted a while back that Rosicky posters still adorned his wall. That is hardly surprising given the Czech’s career at the German club but reading Reus’ words, you forget the genuine ‘Wow!’ factor that his signing had in 2006, the general excitement level raised at that time. A signing it should be said that no World Cup preparation could stop with the club showing a long-missed dynamism in their pursuit of a player. It serves also to remind how much has been lost to injury in his Arsenal career, as if you needed any reminding after the tail-end of last season.
Elsewhere, Samir Nasri said…well, frankly, who cares what words he comes out with? It’s all self-serving PR.