Monday, 7 May 2012

Arsenal Regain The Mastery Of Their Own Fate

It has been an up and down season for so many teams in the Premier League this season. Arsenal have had their own fair share of highs and lows, but Saturday's draw at home to Norwich seemed to be an almost fatal blow for them. They had to hope a struggling Aston Villa team would take something off Spurs on Sunday, and they managed to get a 1-1 draw.

With Newcastle losing at home to Manchester City it means Arsenal are in third place with only one game left to play. The simple fact is Arsenal will finish third if they can win away to West Brom next Sunday, and a draw will more than likely see them finish fourth at worst. Having seen the highlights of West Bron's draw away to Bolton yesterday I have no doubt that Arsenal will have their work cut out in that game.

West Brom have been better away from home this season, but they are not an easy team to beat. They may have nothing to play for at this stage in the season, but Norwich showed how dangerous a team in that position can be. It will take a much better defensive performance in particular for Arsenal to get the win they need.

Next Sunday afternoon at 3 pm Arsenal will get the chance to do what they have been unable to do in their last four Premier League games. With the finishing post in sight Arsenal have faltered very badly, but this weekend they have been greatly helped by the performances of those teams fighting for third place with them. As it stands there are still four teams who can finish third, and Arsenal are ahead of the other three.

Chelsea travel to Liverpool tomorrow night needing a win to keep their slight chances of a top three or four place alive. If they win that game they will be three points behind Arsenal with a home game against Blackburn next Sunday to come. I have no doubt that they will beat Blackburn which would mean an Arsenal loss to West Brom would drop them below Chelsea in that scenario.

However, a point at West Brom will guarantee fourth place for Arsenal, as Chelsea will not be able to catch them and neither will Newcastle unless they beat Everton by 17 goals. It would leave Spurs as the only team that can finish above Arsenal besides the top two teams that have run away with the title challenge. It would also leave Arsenal fans hoping for a Bayern Munich win over Chelsea in the Champions League final on May 19.

It seems incredible that Arsenal have allowed their season to develop in this way, as they had so many chances to take the points they needed at home. They played three of their last four games at home, and a win in any of those games would have Arsenal almost over the finishing line. Each of  those games should really have been won, but now it's their away form that will come under scrutiny.

Arsenal started the season really badly, and took only one point from their first four away games. Since then they have done quite well on their travels with 27 points from 14 games, and not too many teams can better that. In most of those games they had Mikael Arteta in their team, and his absence has been a real problem for them in recent weeks.

He went off injured after only eight minutes of the defeat at home to Wigan, and Arsenal have looked very unsteady in midfield since then. With Jack Wilshere and Abu Diaby both missing virtually the whole season injured it has left the club with very limited options in midfield. Both Aaron Ramsey and Alex Song had very bad games on Saturday, but they will probably have to play against West Brom.

The only other options besides both of them are Frances Coquelin and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who are both young and relatively inexperienced. It would be a huge risk to throw either of them in at the deep end, and I cannot see Arsene Wenger taking that risk.

With Bacary Sagna having broken his leg on Saturday there is every chance that Coquelin will be needed in defence anyway. I suspect Carl Jenkinson will play at right back instead of Sagna, but Coquelin didn't do so badly there on Saturday when he replaced Sagna.

When I watched the game on Saturday I thought Kieran Gibbs had a bad game in defence, but when I watched it again I realised others had left him badly exposed at times. Thomas Vermaelen is  fantastic player, but some of his performances in the last couple of months have been very poor defensively. He needs to concentrate on his defending this Sunday, as a win for Arsenal will have to be built on defensive strength.

The first priority for any defender is his defending, but against Norwich Arsenal simply didn't do that. When they were 1-0 and 3-2 up they were still somehow outnumbered at the back at times by Norwich. The players need to be aware of their defensive responsibilities, and stick to them unless circumstances and the manager decide otherwise.

I can't say I am overly confident of the team getting the result they need, but I will be cheering them on with my heart and soul as always. I would dearly love to see them score early and build on that lead, but that has been far from the Arsenal way this season. I have no doubt there will be twists and turns as the games progress on Sunday afternoon, and I can only hope when the final whistle sounds Arsenal are looking forward to Champions League football next season.

Finally for today Arsenal have unveiled their new home shirt for next season, and I have to say I really don't care for it. I don't like the black(or is it navy stripe), and I can at least see it saving me €60 because I won't be buying it. That may change with time s it usually does, but I sincerely doubt it.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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