Four games in February that could make or break our season.
Arsenal are back on track… well maybe not totally, but that away win at Bournemouth was very welcome. We played some good football, scored two fine goals, kept a clean sheet and reduced the gap with Leicester Smester to five points; and we got ahead of mega-spenders Citeh in the process. It was crucial that we did that and as supporters we should be happy. Are we though? Well I am, and what anybody else thinks is their business. Although…on another blog somebody called our performance on Sunday ‘Sam Allerdicesque’; I rest my case.
We all know that Coquelin and Alexis are vital players to see the season out victoriously. And the good news is that since their return we won against Burnley, got a point from the Saints game (should have been three) and won at Bournemouth, even though they did not play all the time in those matches. Clearly, both players are not yet at their best but they are getting there, and I am hopeful that they will be a lot sharper when we play the Foxes at THOF. It may take longer than that but with a bit of luck they will be fully fit when it matters most.
Wenger has been giving the key players who have played for us most of the season a rest recently. Some believe the BFG is being punished for his red card against the Chavs but I reckon Per is simply getting some much needed rest. Will he be back this weekend? I reckon so. Gabriel is slowly getting there but Per’s organisation and leadership skills will be much needed in the tougher games.
It will be interesting to see what will happen with Theo in the next few weeks. For years I have defended Walcott on this and other blogs, pointing out time and again that his assists and goals stats are very good. We know about his limitations but his qualities and stats easily outweigh these. However, we need to see him get back to scoring and assisting and scaring the life out of opposition defenders as soon as possible. And at the moment he appears to be in a mental cul de sac. February will hopefully see a turning point for him.
Looking at February, this is a crucial month for the Gunners. We have four games left: three home games in a row and a tricky away game in manky Manchester just before the month finishes. After Leicester we play Hull at home for the FA Cup and then we host Barcelona. With those games in mind, it is no wonder that the boys put the foot off the gas paddle against the Cherries and just secured the win without conceding once. We were lethal twice in just 88 seconds and after that we were in control of almost the entire game. If you felt you were not entertained enough by the Gunners on Sunday, I’d say get used to it or go and watch some darts. We have a championship to win and it ain’t going to be beautiful all the time – that’s for next season! :)
We do not need to win against Leicester but we cannot afford to lose. The Foxes will play with not a care in the world as they are still not feeling much pressure: they are over-performing by a country mile and will just play their game… as they did so successfully against the Northern Oilers last weekend. Their hardest games are against the lesser lights of the PL; despite winning against Pool and Citeh recently, they, just like Arsenal (and Citeh), only won five out of their last ten games. So a draw would not be the end of the world but of course we should aim to win, and I reckon we can as long as we play compact and composed (and the supporters will need to understand this and just… support).
The Hull game at home is a perfect opportunity to reach the last eight of the FA Cup and yet rest a few players for the clash with Barcelona. We cannot afford to underestimate Hull but Wenger will have a quality squad to choose from.
There is no doubt in my mind that Arsene has been thinking and preparing a lot for the Barcelona game. What is at stake here is our status in Europe and with that our attractiveness for future big signings (as well as keeping our stars at the club). Wenger knows that we have to play at our best, and cleverest, to have a chance against the Catalans and I cannot wait to see the home game. The practice we had against Guardiola’s Bayernlona will really help here and the good news is that we should be able to field a really strong team, possibly our strongest: Cech, Bellerin, BFG, Koz, Monreal, Coquelin, Flamini/Campbell, Rambo, Alexis, Ozil, Giroud/Theo (depending on tactics). With a bit of luck Welbeck will be available as well. I guess we will not see Santi or Jack play this month, but they might make the return match in March.
The last game of the month will be a big test of character for Arsenal. Old Trafford has been a difficult ground for us in recent years and we need to replicate that fine FA Cup win of last season (Nacho Monreal you HERO! :) ) and show it was not a one-off. We will be knackered after the Barca game but a good result should also give us the impetus and belief we can beat them and give Louis van Gaal finally his P45 (he will thank us for this eventually :) ).
So fine fellow Gooners, there is so much to look forward to in February and with the right support, the right mentality by the players and a bit of luck (especially on the injury front) this could become a very special month.