Arsène awaits confirmation of Mikel Arteta’s punishment, the accepted one-match ban or the to-be-appealed-against three-matches. It is a pause for reflection on the current state of the squad in conjunction with upcoming fixtures. Saturday’s win was costly with Mathieu Flamini succumbing to injury, another midfielder missing in a group of players recuperating from injuries or just tired through the lack of rotation as a result of, well, you know the vicious circle all too well.
In the wake of Saturday’s victory, Per Mertesacker observed,
We wanted to come back as quickly as possible as a strong unit. What we showed was good enough to respond. But there will be more tests to come and that will be crucial for the rest of the season. We want to surprise people more and more, that is what we need to do but we do not look too much at the other sides. We are in a strong and interesting position, so we are aware of it and try to keep it – but that is the difficult thing, to keep it.
I am not sure who is surprised. Before the season started, I observed that if we arrived at Old Trafford unbeaten and having dropped no more than three points, we would be in a good position. We’ve dropped five from a run of fixtures that it is not unreasonable to class as, well, routine. The games that have tripped us up in the past have for the most part been negotiated safely but there are more to come. November and December are difficult months as much for the standard of the opposition as the intensity of the competitions with Champions League qualification issues resolved, League Cup knockout rounds to be won and the Premier League taking shape at both ends of the table with teams readying themselves for titles, relegation or ensuring mid-table obscurity.
Arsène recognised that turn of events,
As it stands at the moment, we have a very good away record. We have drawn only once and won all our other away games and we have more points ahead of everyone else so that’s not bad. That’s the advantage, the disadvantage is that some teams have had heavier fixtures than we have had until now. That’s what is facing us now.
It is a mixed bag of fixtures until next May when everyone has played their full set. Unlike La Liga where the reverse fixtures follow the same order, the Premier League like to spice up life by giving a randomness by avoiding such niceties. To the layman that makes life more difficult on the surface without considering the nuances for policing and the like. As Wenger suggests, others have faced tougher fixtures. United, for example, have played their two derbies away already at Anfield and Eastlands. Arsenal have done neither. Chelsea have been to Old Trafford and White Hart Lane. Arsenal have done neither. There are differences which account for some of the points dropped and until Arsenal have played the corresponding fixtures, the true impact of those results is not really understood. It is why we should enjoy the moments of being top without the triumphalism in which many are rejoicing. We know United are playing badly, Chelsea are not setting the world on fire. Nor are Arsenal since the international break but crucially, as the manager rightly notes, we are winning. That’s the key and as infuriating as it might be, the club will never get due credit for performing the way Manchester United have done over the years until they win a trophy doing so. When that happens, it will no longer be a question of wheels coming off or broken cannons; it will have been the mark of champions. The first season it happens may be grudging credit; the second less so.
Times are approaching when Arsenal may drop points, the fixtures against the top four have been their Achilles Heel in recent seasons. There were times when we couldn’t help but beat Chelsea, even given them two-goal leads and still peg them back. Then it went the other way when we probably could not have bought a win. Well, we couldn’t the money wasn’t available for signings so bribery was out of the question as well. Arsenal have to come away with no worse than a draw for any title credentials to remain intact. If having played the Mancunians, Chelsea and Liverpool, Arsenal find themselves with less than six points, things will not have gone well. Titles are not lost in four games but damage can be done to any aspirations of a top three finish as well. Equally, titles cannot be won in the same period but chances can be enhanced. Most importantly, it is not performances which matter in this quartet of one-off matches; it genuinely is results and perhaps we need to be a little less hung-up on how we played against the likes of Palace, being so defensive of performances. Those which have happened built the foundations; those comings are the brickwork.