Being an Arsenal fan is like following around Derek Zoolander, sure he’s beautiful but oh my God, he’s so eff’n dumb. He’s not even that beautiful, he only has one look and I’m not talking about how Giroud, Wilshere and Ramsey seem to have the same haircut.
For the first part of this season Arsenal played like Manchester United circa 2001 to May 2013, overachieving, thuggish, diving, grinders. For 83 minutes against Everton, Arsenal played ugly but looked like they were going to pull off a win from a late, long-ball goal. Then, suddenly, if not completely expectedly, Arsenal played like… Arsenal, and conceded a late goal with sloppy defending. The Gunner’s next effort was to try with all their might to get kicked out of the Champions League by losing 2-0 against Napoli.
Title-winning sides grind out results and against the run of play they win. Winning sides keep teams from scoring in the last ten minutes. In the last two games Arsenal have conceded late goals. Maybe Arsenal aren’t a title winning side.
The season seems to be hanging in the balance. Arsenal has already outdone pre-season expectations but are they really title contenders? The next two matches will identify just who Arsenal really are and on Saturday they travel to Manchester City, then face Chelsea at home two days before X-mas.
Manchester City has a hard run of games ahead of them and (like Arsenal) they drew their last Premier League game. City have lost points against mediocre opponents and they need as many points as possible between now and January to be in the running for the title.
City may be lucky to play Arsenal right now. On Tuesday, City took care of their Champions League business by beating Bayern Munich. Beating Bayern Munich away is a huge win and it should propel their confidence to take care of the stumbling Gunners.
Furthermore, Manchester City have made their home a fortress. This season only Wayne Rooney and Romelu Lukaku have been able to score at the Etihad and Man City have won every home game. Arsenal’s centre-forward, Giroud, is good but he isn’t the type of player Lukaku and Rooney are.
Aaron Ramsey, Arsenal’s best player this season, is key. Not only is he the closest thing to Wayne Rooney in the Arsenal squad, he also scores in away matches. Of his thirteen goals this season only five were at the Emirates and that counts his Champions League brace against Fenerbahce. On August 10th Arsenal beat City 3-1 in a friendly. I watched the match and Aaron Ramsey dominated Yaya Toure. At the time I didn’t rate Ramsey (no one did) and I just figured Yaya wasn’t taking the match seriously. Yaya might not have, it was a friendly and that game can’t tell us too much, City were adjusting to new players and a new couch.
In order for Arsenal to have a chance on Saturday Ramsey has to dominate. Against Napoli, Ramsey was introduced in the 70th minute, he didn’t look fit, immediately received a yellow card for losing his cool and Arsenal conceded two goals. Ramsey’s introduction was supposed to reinforce Arsenal’s defence and reverse Napoli’s momentum. It didn’t work.
Arsenal have the best away record in the Premier League. They’ve only conceded five goals and have scored fourteen against opponents this year. Only two teams have managed points at home against Arsenal. West Brom earned a draw and Manchester United won. Arsenal have not come from behind to win an away match this season.
Arsenal have conceded away goals in the 27, 42, 48, 77, and 88th minute of matches this season. The last five minutes of the first half and the first five minutes of the second half are when Arsenal look most susceptible. I stacked those numbers against when City score at the Etihad. Sure enough, Man City’s most dangerous ten minutes at home is Arsenal’s weakest ten minutes away. City have scored seven of their 29 goals in that ten minute time spread, more than at any other ten minute interval.
If Arsenal can keep Man City from scoring during that time period, they might have a chance of a draw or a win. A draw for Arsenal might be enough to satisfy critics. The lead in the table is five points and the goal difference is considerably favourable to Arsenal.
I believe a draw at Man City means that Arsenal will maintain their position in the league even if they lose the game to Chelsea. Five points is a bit of breathing room and six goals is a lot for Chelsea to score in two games. It can also be argued that Arsenal have the easiest next five games compared to their main competition for the title (Liverpool, Chelsea and Man City).
There’s no shame in losing against a better side and this season might be strange enough for the title winner to drop points against the top sides. This will only be true if Chelsea, City and Liverpool maintain their strange away form.
Last season, Arsenal had four loses and two draws after fifteen games (the same record as Man City do now) and pundits as well as fans were suggesting it was time for Arsene Wenger to step down. Meanwhile, Manchester United, the eventual title winners, had 36 points (one less than Arsenal do now). What a difference a year makes. Football is a strange game.
At times following around Derek Zoolander doesn’t seem to make sense. Arsenal probably won’t win a trophy this year but at least this season has been more entertaining than most Ben Stiller movies. Arsenal might not win a trophy but they aren’t too far off. The new financial situation at the club means that Arsenal have stopped selling off their best talent and can buy top talent.
Manchester City might win the match Saturday but Arsenal could win the war. If City don’t deliver it means new players, maybe a new couch. If Arsenal don’t win, the core will grow older, continue to mesh and improve with new talent. Now that Manchester United have entered into the wilderness a new club may need to dominate for the foreseeable future. I hope it’s Arsenal but it could be City.
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