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Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Could Arsenal be out of top four race before Valentine's Day?


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Laurent Koscielny's crazy rugby tackle against Edin Dzeko on Sunday ultimately cost Arsenal the game. You can blame the referee if you want, but the Frenchman's decision to haul Dzeko to the ground was inexcusable. That moment of madness denied Arsenal the chance to pick up all three points and crushed their momentum in the race for a top four finish.

Today Arsenal find themselves six points behind rivals Spurs with three massive games coming up. On Sunday they take on Chelsea at the Bridge, before hosting West Ham United and Brendan Rodgers' Liverpool. The way Chelsea murdered Stoke at the Britannia was frightening, while both West Ham and Liverpool have caused Arsenal problems in the past. There is every chance that Arsenal could emerge with only four points from that run.

Going into February Arsenal face their old nemeses Stoke City at home before travelling to the Stadium of Light.

Worried GunnersAll of these teams have proved problematic for Arsene Wenger over the past few seasons. Gone are the days when Arsenal just had to turn up to beat Chelsea. Since Wayne Bridge's late winner in the Champions League at Highbury in 2004 the Blues have lost only four times. Sure Arsenal have only lost one of the last four and hit them for five last season, but they don't have Robin van Persie any more leading the line. Chelsea have struggled at home but this will be a huge test of character for Arsene Wenger.

West Ham looks like being the easiest game of the lot but let's not forget that Sam Allardyce and Arsene Wenger do not see eye-to-eye on anything and that Big Sam would love to put a nail in Wenger's coffin. The Hammers of course completed the double over Arsenal in the 2006/07 season and will feel that they are long overdue another win. However, this should be a home win.

Liverpool are playing well and the partnership of Suarez and Sturridge will have had more time to develop by the time this game comes around. Both strikers will fancy their chances against Per Mertesacker while Lucas will give Agger and Skrtel some added protection. Liverpool have only lost one of their last five visits to the Emirates in the league, winning 2-0 last season, and pose even more dangers this time round. It should be an open game but Arsenal will need Walcott, Podolski, Cazorla and Wilshere to take their chances when they arise.

Stoke City always make life tough for the Gunners, especially at the Britannia, but in the capital Arsenal always seem to emerge victorious. You have to go back to 1981 for the last time Stoke triumphed on Arsenal soil but they have proved to be extremely hard to beat this season. Only Chelsea (2), Man City, Man United and Norwich City have taken all three points off them, so this will again be another test of character.

They then head north to Sunderland, a team that ended their FA Cup hopes last season. The Stadium of Light has been a bleak place for the travelling Gunners over the past five seasons. Last season they needed an injury time winner from Thierry Henry to give them their first win on Wearside since 2008. The Black Cats may not have set the world alight this season, but Martin O'Neill will have a plan to thwart and frustrate the visitors.

However, it may not be that bad for Arsenal. Let's have a look at their rivals' fixtures. Spurs, well, they give Arsenal some hope. They take on Man United this Sunday before travelling to Norwich and West Brom and then hosting Newcastle. You would have to fancy United for the points there and Norwich have already beaten Spurs in the Capital One Cup this season. West Brom can beat anyone on their day while Newcastle will be fighting for their lives.

Then there's Everton. They visit Southampton this weekend before hosting West Brom and Aston Villa and then heading to Old Trafford, where they sensationally took a point off Fergie's men last season. You'd have to fancy Everton for at least seven points.

Arsenal are not out of the race by any means and you should never write off Wenger's men. They came good late on last season to clinch their place in the Champions League but they are under more pressure than last season as Spurs and Everton continue to pick up points. However, Arsenal also have to play Spurs and Everton in the run-in so it's still all to play for, but Arsenal can not afford to drop any more stupid points.

Much depends on what Wenger does in this transfer window. It's apparent to everyone that he needs some reinforcements but will he be able to buy the right men in time? We will wait and see!

Calling all Arsenal fans: Are you anxious about the next five games? How many points do you expect Arsenal to pick up? Who would you like Wenger to sign? Whatever your views, we'd love to hear from you.

 

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Colin Illingworth

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