March 8, 2012

Two factors contributed to what has been an unusually quiet week for Arsenal. The first was a result that no one really wants to talk about. The second was a schedule change due to Everton advancing in the FA Cup. Combined, it means no game until Wednesday's Champions League match against Bayern. It of course also means we get to further lament Sunday's loss at White Hart Lane.

Frustrating is a good word to describe the loss. Arsenal were the better team for the first half hour. But two goals for Spurs in quick succession changed everything. And we had to listen to that awful song.

But six minutes after the break, things took a turn for the better. Per Mertesacker headed home a Theo Walcott free kick to halve the deficit. It appeared to breathe life back into the visitors. Arsenal went close a handful of times, but despite a flurry of attacks in the final minutes we couldn't find the equalizer.

To Arsène Wenger, it boiled down to efficiency. "It's very frustrating because we had a great attitude but we come out with no points and as well because we were not efficient in the zones where it matters - at the front and at the back." He was also left frustrated because as he noted, Arsenal very easily could have been up 2-0 rather than behind 2-0.

But one thing he made clear after the game, was that his side would continue to fight on. He firmly believes that Arsenal can still achieve a top-four place, and he isn't alone. Carl Jenkinson pointed to the fact that there are still 10 games – worth as many as 30 points – left in the season. He then added, "I think in a couple of days time, we'll get our head around this and realise that we've bridged a gap like that before and can do it again."

Suddenly a mere seven points doesn’t seem quite as insurmountable.

Now, we all know that Jenkinson is a dyed-in-the-wool Gooner. So of course he is optimistic. But other players discussed where they were looking as well. And to a man, it was forward. Wojchiech Szczesny, for example, has his eyes firmly fixed on preparing for Bayern.

The question is, how will the 10 days in between games affect the team? On one hand, it's easy to think that what the squad really needs is to get back on the horse and return to winning ways as soon as possible. Mertesacker, on the other hand, suggests that the break is exactly what the team needs. He thinks it will allow time for the players and staff to figure out what went wrong and how to fix it.

So what is the likelihood that Arsenal can make up some ground to land that fourth spot? Hard to say really. Our record in the final 10 games of each season during the Premier League era is generally positive – we have had a losing record only three times. And we've moved up at least one position nine of those years. A nice-end-of-season run like we had in 2006 might just be enough.

 It wasn't all bad this week. Arsenal's U-19 team pulled out a big win against Inter Milan at the San Siro in some terrible conditions. Next up is a NextGen Series Quarter-Final clash against CSKA Moscow. According to Terry Burton, they Russians are one of the favorites to win the competition, but 17-year-old Chuba Akpom is feeling rather confident. "We have the players, we have the quality and the only way is forward for us. We are getting stronger and stronger."

But since this is Arsenal, any good news must be tempered with some bad. And as often happens, it is on the injury front. Twenty-year-old striker Benik Afobe suffered a nasty knee injury while on loan at Millwall. It's an anterior cruciate ligament tear, which means he will be out of action until Fall. Best wishes for a full recovery.

So again, no Arsenal this weekend. But hopefully it will be a chance for all the niggling injuries – physical and emotional – to clear up ahead of Wednesday's trip to Bayern. We all know that the two goal deficit puts Arsenal in an unenviable position, but football is indeed a funny game.

Until next week… come on you Gunners!

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Kevin Mooney 8 Mar 2013