Arsenal can still win the Premier League title
“Daniel, put down the pipe and seek professional help immediately. You’re a good guy but you’ve clearly been under a lot of stress and it has got to you. You don’t know what you are saying. Please stop, you’re upsetting the children.”
Now that aspersions have been cast over my mental health, I shall attempt to defend my cogency and elucidate my overarching point and reason for the audacious headline.
How Arsenal can catch up
Arsenal currently sit in fifth place in the league, separated from fourth spot by goal difference alone after racking up the numbers against Aston Villa. Chelsea, to a point, have been steamrollering their way through the league and stand 11 points ahead of Arsenal – a seemingly unassailable lead. Eleven points at the beginning of February is not insurmountable. In the 1997/98 season Arsenal trailed Manchester United by 12 points before going on a 9 match winning streak to claim the title by a solitary point despite having worse goals scored and goals conceded statistics to second-placed Manchester United.
In their last three games, Arsenal have gained 7 points on second-placed Manchester City to cut the deficit to just 6 points. Arsenal are 33/1 to claim the title and 1/3 to make the top four whereas City aren’t even on the top 4 lists, the bookies are so confident they’ll get it, and they are 4/1 to win the title. We’ve cut the deficit on the second favourites in half in 3 games.
A lot obviously relies on fixtures and fitness and Chelsea’s February looks reasonably kind, with the exception of Everton who despite their troubles this season are still a threat with the talent they have and managed to put 3 past Chelsea in August. Aston Villa and Burnley will likely prove scant opposition for the Blues, but Everton could benefit from Costa’s suspension and the possible continued absence of Fabregas.
March holds the key to Chelsea’s season you would feel as they face consecutive league matches against Tottenham, West Ham and Southampton with a visit from PSG in the Champions League sandwiched between the latter two matches and a rearranged fixture against Leicester to be confirmed. Spurs have already claimed a scalp from Chelsea and Southampton proved themselves equal with a draw whilst West Ham have been no pushovers this season.
There is potential there for Chelsea to drop 5-9 points before the start of April which – entirely depending on Arsenal keeping a near perfect record – could see the 11 point gap drop to as little as 2 points but more realistically 6 points.
Chelsea have 4 league fixtures in April and depending on the outcome of the PSG tie may have a quarter-final tie to play in the Champions League. Their final two fixtures of the month are against Arsenal and Manchester United. I think the Manchester United game will be a draw for various reasons and should Arsenal win their fixture that game week then the gap could be either closed or reduced to 4 points.
A win for Arsenal against Chelsea at home and we could be looking at overtaking them or reducing the gap to just a point.
An 11-point gap is not insurmountable, but it does require an almost perfect end to the campaign from Arsenal which is unlikely. However, Arsenal are in the ascendency. Their form is good, confidence is growing and most importantly we are getting players back at just the right time.
Theo Walcott and Mesut Ozil are contributing goals and assists whilst still not completely sharp, so it is safe to expect more will come from them. Olivier Giroud, Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla are playing superbly and Alexis Sanchez is just on another level. We are soon to welcome back Jack Wilshere, Hector Bellerin is going from strength to strength and we’ve reinforced the defence with the signing of Gabriel.
This type of title challenge may actually suit Arsenal. Written off and creeping up from behind, relatively unnoticed until it is almost all but too late.
Last season, leading from the front for so long, created a huge sense of expectation and possibly it was too much to handle when injuries came along but winning the FA Cup has given our players belief now. Ideally you’d want to lead from the front but we’ve been chipping away at that lead, quite slowly it must be said, for a while and now we have our big guns back we might be able to start blasting away chunks of it.
Can Chelsea maintain their lead?
Even with their 5-point lead over Manchester City, you get the feeling that Chelsea are not at ease and Jose Mourinho’s evocation of siege mentality suggests they have concerns. As Arsenal supporters, we know all too well that Fabregas tends to falter towards the end of the season and history suggests his current hamstring is just the start of it.
There are question marks over Diego Costa’s mentality and if the league gets tighter and the air at Cobham and Stamford Bridge thickens with outward facing animosity and inwards facing tension we could see another lashing out from the capricious forward. Add to that the worrying form – for Chelsea – of Gary Cahill and their spine is looking suspect.
Certainly Chelsea have proven themselves no more immune to the loss of big players than any other team and their famously lauded depth at the beginning of the season is looking increasingly shallow.
The internal capitulation of Chelsea, the multiple draws and sporadic losses between now and the end of the season is, at the moment, just wishful thinking. That is not to say it is not possible. Far too often we ridicule and brand as ridicule those who understand the difference between the possible and the probable.
They are like reflections in a mirror, the closer they get the bigger they look – however they move at different speeds towards or away from their own speculum. With an ever dwindling supply of remaining games, the ability to reduce the deficit becomes less possible and thus less probable as each game passes. However, with every Chelsea draw or loss and every Arsenal respective win or draw in their own fixture the deficit is reduced and reducing the gap becomes more possible. How probable depends on the remaining fixtures.
It is entirely possible for Arsenal to claw back the points gap but currently improbable. A lot rests on the North London Derby this weekend.
Should Arsenal claim all three points that will be four league wins on the trot and six in all competitions. Those four league games will have included Spurs and Manchester City which on paper Arsenal would have been pleased with 2 points from.
The confidence boost our players would receive, on top of their already soaring confidence, from winning away in the North London Derby after thrashing Villa and comfortably dispatching of City on their own ground could propel them into a winning streak.
Ultimately I do not expect Arsenal to overtake Chelsea to claim the Premier League crown as too much relies on Chelsea imploding however I believe in Arsenal’s ability to finish the season with at least 39 points from the remaining 45 to finish with our highest points total in 7 years and achieve a points increase for the fourth consecutive season. I wrote about the potency of our attack here and their ability to fire us to titles.
It’s not the progress we all want, but it is progress nonetheless. I believe we will retain the FA Cup this season and if we can reduce the gap between us and the eventual winners to 3-5 points then we will have had a tremendous season.
I believe we will do it.