If any team is going to topple Chelsea off top spot, it’s Arsenal. It may be a strange feeling for Gunners fans come tea time on Saturday as they hope that Chelsea take no points from their game against Manchester United, but that means cheering on the Red Devils. Only losses for Chelsea will do at this point from an Arsenal perspective, and they’ll just have to hope that they can stave off the challenge from the red half of Manchester – LVG’s men are still a point behind the Gunners.
Wenger has already said that Arsenal will have to be ‘perfect‘ in order to win the league from here, but even then the likelihood is small. Arsenal need something approaching a miracle to bag their first league title since 2003-04.
11 years of failure from an Arsenal point of view will surely turn into 12 though. Only the most worryingly optimistic of Gunners could think that Arsenal had any more than a fleeting chance at Premier League glory come May.
That Arsenal are still in a title race in mid-April may be enough to pacify the Gunners fans who have been calling for Arsene Wenger’s head for the last few years. And this may give him another year free from criticism – especially if they can retain the FA Cup.
I think this is the most important thing to come out of this season for Wenger. It’s not the title challenge, it’s not the possibility of silverware, it’s the very real progress that his team have been making over the past few seasons. The fact that the club have paid off their stadium debt, and are now able to sign quality players again has restored some faith, even though a poor start to the season was enough to see the ‘Wenger Out’ brigade whip out their banners and their air their chants inside the Emirates Stadium again.
In some ways their frustration was justified, though. Arsenal’s poor start to the season has perhaps cost them the title. If they’re in a race now, imagine how tight it would have been had they turned some of those early draws and defeats into wins.
Of course, we’ll never know if they’d have been able to maintain the form had they managed to start off well. They may have faded just like last season, but it’s hard to deny that their start cost them a better shot at the title.
But where the ‘boo-boys’ weren’t justified was in aiming their frustration at Wenger. Since the start of the season, the squad has pulled together, and they’ve been able to incorporate Alexis Sanchez and Danny Welbeck into the team. Olivier Giroud has been on fire recently, and Mesut Ozil has found some sort of form – looking really good in some games and maybe a little anonymous in others. He’s getting there though.
So Arsenal are on the up, and they can perhaps use this wonderful run of form to push on next season, even if the title may be beyond them this year.
If they bring in another midfielder next season, one who can help out his more attacking friends in the Gunners’ engine room, they will be a match for any team in the league and perhaps even Europe.
But what they can also bring to the table next season seems to be a pragmatism that has escaped them for almost a decade.
For years Arsenal have been so wonderful on the eye, and everyone has enjoyed watching them play when on form. But when they come up against a team they can’t break down, or the famous showdowns with Stoke at the Britannia when Wenger’s men just looked too weak, Arsenal had no plan B.
This time around, though, Wenger has shown that he has another weapon in his armoury. Against Manchester City at the Etihad this season, Wenger debuted a more defensive Arsenal, one that stifled the opposition, and allowed them to counter-attack with pace and purpose. Arsenal won the game 2-0. A match in stark contrast to the pulsating, but ultimately humiliating 6-3 defeat that the Gunners suffered at the same venue just over a year previous.
Next season Arsenal’s new-look team, filled with stars and form players, can mount an assault on the Premier League. This season might be a step too far, but the mere fact they’re in a race with only a few games to go will give the players and the fans confidence that they can do it next season. Add a few more signings into the team and Arsenal will be a team to be feared.
But if we see a repeat of the Arsenal that is pragmatic and able to outwit teams tactically, and not just technically with sharp passing, then we may see Arsenal’s best season in a decade. Wenger might be looking towards the end of his stay in North London in the next few years, but this may well be the start of his Indian summer.