January 31, 2014
As January comes to an end Arsenal find themselves very much in the hunt for the Premier League title, the FA Cup and are still alive and kicking in the Champions League. If we knew this information on August 31 we probably would have been doing backflips. Of course the road to silverware is about to get much trickier.
Following our 4-0 win over Coventry City in the FA Cup's fourth round, we drew Liverpool in the next round. The good news is that the tie will be held at Emirates Stadium. The bad news is that the game is scheduled for Sunday, February 16 – about 72 hours before we face Bayern at home in the Champions League.
And that's not all. In addition to those two fixtures, Arsenal will also play Liverpool at Anfield and ManYoo at home in the league over a 12 day period. Throw in Sunderland on February 22 and you've got five games in 15 days in three separate competitions.
Good thing we signed that deal with Gatorade, eh?
It goes without saying that February will present Arsenal with its toughest test of the season. Fortunately, we're in a very good position after a fantastic January. We closed out the month riding a nine-game unbeaten streak in the league and FA Cup.
The last game of the month came on Tuesday on the south coast against Southampton. Despite the fact that it ended in a 2-2 draw there were positives.
First: we played one of the worst first halves of the season. I know what you are thinking: that's a positive? Well, no. Of course not. But the fact that we played that poorly against a decent Premier League side and still made it to the break only trailing by one goal isn't something to scoff at. And considering that we bounced back and took the lead within eight minutes of re-start shows that the squad can adjust their game quickly.
Regarding the first-half display, Arsène Wenger said simply, "I don't want to look for any excuses. We played in second gear and Southampton were in fourth." Still, the boss did have two big regrets from the game: conceding a second goal so quickly after taking the lead, and going down to 10 men after Mathieu Flamini's red card.
Losing the Frenchman for three games in the upcoming month is quite the inconvenience. Especially as the injury news seems to suddenly be piling up. Tomas Rosicky and Jack Wilshere both missed the game against the Saints. And Aaron Ramsey, out since late December, was just getting ready to return to the squad when he suffered a set-back and has been ruled out for another four to six weeks.
Mikel Arteta touched on this topic during the week saying, “That happens and we have to deal with it. The schedule is really busy now - we have some really tough games coming up in the next few weeks and we have to deal with it and do our best.”
If you have been paying attention at home, this all comes just as the January transfer window gets ready to close. While the rumblings have been focused on signing a striker – or perhaps a future striker – the recent events prompted the boss to look in a direction that would have been quite unexpected a few short weeks ago: central midfield. Arsenal picked up midfielder Kim Kallstrom on loan for the rest of the season from Spartak Moscow.
While not exactly a household name, the 31-year-old Swede has proven to be a versatile player over the years and has plenty of big game experience. He has two Ligue 1 titles under his belt as well as two Coupe de Frances and a Champions League semi-final. It's unlikely that he can replace Ramsey's goals, but should be able to provide a good option in several roles – including free-kicks.
There has also been a bit of movement in the other direction with the Dench Man, Emmanuel Frimpong heading off to Barnsley on a permanent deal. Frimmy looked to have a bright future at Arsenal a few years ago, but a couple of serious knee injuries left him behind a number of others in the pecking order. Best of luck to a lifelong Gooner.
The other big news was the official announcement that Arsenal have signed a new long-term kit deal with PUMA. The designs for next season's kits have yet to be officially unveiled but there are plenty of teaser images out on the interwebs to at least give you an idea of what we can look forward to.
Speaking of looking forward, Crystal Palace pay a visit to the Emirates on Sunday. Tony Pulis has brought his distinctive defensive style to south London and it has been paying dividends so far. The Eagles have kept seven clean sheets from their past 13 game and have moved out of the relegation zone. They are even within striking distance of the top half of the table.
Of course, Palace aren't exactly lighting the world afire with their offensive output. In fact, away from home they have only scored five goals in the Premier League - and have yet to score more than one goal in a single away game.
The name of the game for Arsenal will be breaking though the Palace defense. It could be a good opportunity for Cazorla to continue his recent goalscoring heroics especially if th attacking midfielders and wide players can turn the Palace centerbacks.
Kick-off is at 11am ET on Sunday and you can find the game on NBCSN in the USA and Sportsnet World in Canada. Or you can head out to your local and take in the game with your fellow Gooners. Any way you do it, hopefully we'll see Arsenal seize the opportunity to pick up some points - and maybe get back to the top of the Premier League.
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