May 10, 2013
The mantra for the last several weeks has been quite simple: win. Just win.
Arsenal needn't worry about being fancy, needn't worry about overwhelming their opponents, and certainly needn't worry about impressing the pundits. Which is good. Because we didn't do any of that last week against QPR. At least not after the first 20 seconds or so.
But on the back of Theo Walcott's incredibly fast game-winning goal, Arsenal brought home what we needed them to bring home – three shiny points. After the game Arsène Wenger said, "We definitely have momentum … A long time ago we focused on us getting the maximum points. We have nearly done that."
The win made it an eight-game unbeaten run in the league with draws against Everton and Man United as the only blemishes. In addition, it marked our third clean sheet in four games. Wenger heaped praise on Wojciech Szczesny, making a special note of how important the goalkeeper's save on Loic Remy late in the game was.
Szczesny, on the other hand, played down that particular save. "It might sound funny but I don't think it was that difficult a save," he said. "A big one in the context of the fight for the top four but I'm not getting too excited." Instead, the keeper cited how well the entire team has stepped up from a defensive point of view.
A key part of that has been the play of Aaron Ramsey in the middle. Over the last seven games, he has developed a fantastic partnership with Mikel Arteta, creating a kind of two-headed defensive midfielder. In that span, Arsenal have only conceded four goals. Ramsey's performances have been so impressive in fact, that the recently maligned player picked up EA SPORTS Player of the Month for April.
The win over Harry Redknapp's already relegated side was enough to push us into third place and into a position where we could sit back and watch the results of the next few days roll in, knowing that if results went our way, we would be for all practical purposes assured of fourth or even third place.
But then Manchester United just had to annoy us one more time before Alex Ferguson announced his retirement. They lost to Chelsea. At home. That propelled Chelsea into third and made for a nervous Wednesday when they faced Spurs. Fortunately, that one ended in a draw. With two games remaining we are in fourth place, two points behind Chelsea and one point ahead of Spurs.
The mantra remains "just win." Our fate is completely in our hands.
Our two remaining games come against Wigan and Newcastle – the first club in the drop zone and the second perched precariously just above it. Normally, playing against a team playing for their lives is one of the last things you want to face at this time of year. But Per Mertesacker has an interesting take. "Sometimes it is hard to play against a side who are relaxed on the pitch,” he said. “You could see that against Manchester United last week as they were champions. So I think it is good for us to play against teams who are under pressure. It helps us keep our focus on a high level.”
While perhaps you’d rather be playing against a squad that already has its head turned by summer holidays, considering how a relaxed QPR played against us, it's a very fair point.
The match against Wigan doesn’t come until Tuesday, giving Arsenal plenty of time to prepare. There is no team news yet other than the knowledge that Olivier Giroud will serve out the last game of his three-match ban. Meanwhile, Wigan will be coming down from an FA Cup Final appearance against Manchester City. Interestingly, even if the Latics lose, they have already won in a sense. Because City have already clinched a Champions League spot for next year, Wigan automatically get the Europa League slot that the FA Cup winner is awarded.
But even though we aren't playing this weekend, Saturday and Sunday could be hugely important for us. Both Chelsea and Spurs will play their 37th game, and the pressure on us to get a win could be even greater than it already is. And if Sunderland, Norwich and Newcastle each pick up points, Tuesday will be do or die for Wigan. Of course, should Newcastle fail to pick up any points against QPR on Sunday, they will be fighting for their lives at home on the final day of the season.
It ain't over yet, folks.
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