By Daniel Cowan
Just six matches into the Premier League season, Arsenal’s title hopes were completely written off.
As the season progressed and injuries mounted it looked as though this could be the time Arsenal finally fell out of the top four. Injuries – according to some – were not legitimate excuses for Arsenal’s league woes and the opinion that even a fully fit squad would struggle to compete with the mighty Chelsea and their unstoppable duo of Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas crept in.
Olivier Giroud, despite being injured, could apparently never live up to the ability or impact of Costa and Mesut Ozil was an unnecessary purchase who couldn’t cope with the league and stopped us buying Cesc back… Apparently.
The return to fitness and form for both players has seen a remarkable swing in fortune for Arsenal in the league going from outside challengers for a top-four place to outside challengers for the title.
It may seem crazy to suggest the Gunners are still in the title race but after a convincing win against West Ham United, and Manchester City’s loss against Burnley, there is a solitary point separating us from the reigning champions. In short, if City are still in the title race – albeit as outsiders – then so are Arsenal.
To get close to the title, Arsene Wenger’s side are relying on the results of other matches going their way which is an idea that brings some close to explosion with incandescent fury. How dare Arsenal rely on the results of other teams to achieve their aims! Surely Arsenal should concern themselves with winning things without help? Yes and no.
I have always found some of the reactions to wishing for a good result in another fixture quite strange. Of course the best way to win titles is to make sure you don’t have to rely on other results but hoping for a favourable outcome is not, as some would have you believe, an acceptance of ‘mediocrity’.
Chelsea have two games in hand but they will still want the chasers to drop points so they can wrap the title up earlier, while City want Chelsea to lose so they have a better chance of retaining the title. All teams want results to go their way regardless of where they are in the league. Arsenal’s job is to capitalise on them.
Arsenal haven’t quite secured their top-four place yet but I think it is safe to say they are the best equipped to finish third which leaves United, Spurs, Liverpool and Southampton fighting for one spot and this is where Arsenal’s slim chance at catching Chelsea lay.
The Blues face Hull, Stoke and QPR. Stoke might be able to cause Chelsea some problems but those fixtures will likely turn into nine points for Chelsea. If my predictions are correct then Chelsea will be on 72 points with 31 games played before they face United and then us in April.
This is where it gets interesting as in the four games preceding Chelsea, Manchester United have to play Liverpool, City and Spurs, so getting a result at Chelsea could either be their last chance to stay in touch with the top four or an opportunity to secure it. United have been dire this season but they’ve also been lucky in picking up points where they have little deserved it. That too could be a draw.
Chelsea then face Arsenal on 73 points with 32 games played. Arsenal will have played 32 games also as the Sunderland game is yet to be rearranged. If Arsenal take maximum points they will be on 66 points so a win against Chelsea puts us within 4 points. Chelsea then have a relatively easy run of fixtures except for the visit of Liverpool who may also need a win to get back in the top four.
The benefit to Arsenal here is there are quite a few teams who have to play our rivals who are desperate for a top-four finish and all bar Manchester City and Spurs have to play Chelsea. It’s an incredibly tall order and requires a perfect finish from Arsenal.
We might not be able to win the title this season but it isn’t mathematically over and until it is I want us to play like we can win it. Indeed I want us to play like title hopefuls every week! The chance is slim but dreams don’t come true if you stay asleep.