May 3, 2013
The phrase "must win game" can grow tiresome after a while. Over the course of a season it’s used about as often as the little bald guy in "The Princess Bride" shouted "Inconceivable!" And you actually do have to wonder sometimes if the people saying it actually know what it means.
Sp please forgive me when I say that Arsenal's three remaining games are all … must win games.
As things stand right now Arsenal have virtually no flexibility when it comes to securing Champions League football next season. In fact, even earning nine points between now and May 19th would not necessarily be enough. Although the fates would really have to hit us hard from that to happen.
But every point – and possibly every goal – is vital, and as Arsène Wenger has said numerous times since the beginning of March, Arsenal must focus on Arsenal and not worry about what is going on in the lesser parts of London. So while the 1-1 draw against Manchester United last weekend may not have been ideal, Theo Walcott's goal in the opening minutes against the Premier League champions could prove to be the most important goal of Arsenal's season. Conversely, Bacary Sagna's foul on Robin van Persie could potentially lead to the end of our decade-and-a-half run in the Champions League.
But don’t tell the manager that. "If we win our other games it will be enough," he said in his post-match press conference. "I am convinced we will be there but there is no room for dropping points."
So it's fair to say there is a bit of pressure on this squad. But the reality is that there has been pressure on this squad for months. And if you consider that we are in the midst of an eight-game unbeaten run, you can agree with Aaron Ramsey when he says that the squad has been coping quite well.
And Arsenal's defensive play has been at the center of that. Wojciech Szczesny heaped praise and a bit of gratitude on Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker after Sunday's game. "They're getting the credit they deserve because they work very hard and they're very honest lads." It's not just those two. Ramsey and Mikel Arteta are also working their tails off in the midfield, providing Arsenal with a kind of shield that had been lacking in the early stages of the season. Arteta has also provided fantastic leadership in recent weeks and told Arsenal Player how he has been able to help motivate his teammates and get their heads in the game when he sees a dip in focus.
Keeping focus will be of the utmost importance for the next three games. We absolutely should be able to beat QPR, Wigan and Newcastle, but there is a rub. QPR has already been relegated. Their players have nothing to play for but pride, and maybe a few chances to get in the shop window ahead of the transfer season. Wigan are currently in the drop zone, and Newcastle aren't completely safe yet. We cannot expect a cakewalk in any of these games.
Of course, neither can Chelsea. They play Manchester United at Old Trafford this weekend and then host Spurs on Wednesday. And next Saturday they visit an Aston Villa side that could be in serious relegation danger. Spurs, in addition to that Chelsea game, face three teams that are just on this side of safety. The permutations are mind boggling.
But for now it's all inconsequential. We must beat QPR on Saturday. And here is the bad news. Arsenal have never won at Loftus Road in the Premier League era. We have also played more away games against QPR without a win than any other side in the history of the competition.
The better news is that Arsenal have been very good on the road this season and 'Arry Redknapp's side are, in fact, playing like a team that have already been relegated. They have scored just once in their last four games.
Our early team news suggests that the only absentees for Arsenal will be the Frenchman and Lukasz Fabianski. The manager has suggested that Lukas Podolski could get another chance at center forward, although Theo is also an option. Regardless of who gets the nod, we are certain to see a starting XI that is healthy, has 10 days until their next game, and is very hungry to keep their good run going.
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