Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Make Or Break Week For Arsenal

With the league season two thirds completed Arsenal find themselves in fifth place in the table. They are through to the last 16 of both the Champions League and the FA Cup with the FA Cup offering a more realistic chance of a trophy. In the space of eight days they will play in all three competitions and that week could well decide the outcome of the rest of their season.

First up they play Championship side Blackburn Rovers in the FA Cup this Saturday and a victory would see Arsenal through to the quarter finals. Most of the big guns are still in the competition, but it most certainly is not beyond this Arsenal team to win the cup. Only Manchester United have won the cup more times than Arsenal and one more victory for Arsenal would see them equal United's haul of 10 FA Cups.

I have no doubt Arsene Wenger will be tempted to rest some of his players with a home game against Bayern Munich only three days later. He will have to get the balance right though to make sure he wins the game on the day against Blackburn. Arsenal can do without the embarrassment of a home defeat to a lower league opponent or a midweek replay when their schedule is so full already.

Blackburn haven't had a great season since their relegation from the Premier League last summer, but they're still in the hunt for promotion. They are more than capable of scoring goals, but their defence is their weak point and Arsenal need to exploit that. It's a game Arsenal should win even with a fair smattering of fringe players in the starting 11.

After that the trip of the current German league leaders to the Emirates is a formidable task for Arsenal. Bayern possess some very good players and they will pose a very real threat to Arsenal on the night and particularly over the two legs. They were beaten by an extremely defensive and lucky Chelsea team in the final last season and they will want to make amends this time around.

Over the two legs Bayern have to be clear favourites but Arsenal have a chance if they can win their home leg. They will need to have all of their available players playing at their very best, but again it's not a task that is beyond the current team. The belief a victory over Bayern could possibly bring might be a very good thing for Arsenal.

Players such as Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott will feel they belong at the very top table of European football and they will have their chance to prove it against Bayern. It promises to be a fascinating game and I'm certainly not writing off Arsenal's chances of causing an upset over the two legs. Even if they can't progress a home win and a good performance in the away leg would be a reasonable return against such a good team.

Last season's Champions League exit to AC Milan was one of contrasting fortunes over the two legs. Arsenal were taken apart in the first leg away from home when they played very badly and lost 4-0. There didn't seem to be any hope for the return game, but incredibly Arsenal pulled back three goals before half time and only failed to improve on that when they ran out of players to make an impact.

Arsenal have a very good record at home in the Champions League with the exception of the defeat to Schalke earlier this season. Hopefully that good record can continue against Bayern and give the team a real chance of getting a result on the night.

The final game of the week will be a home game in the league against struggling Aston Villa. The return of Gabriel Agbonlahor and Charles N'Zogbia to the Villa team has seen them improve offensively with Christian Benteke benefitting from their input. Villa have had some real trouble in defence though and again it's something Arsenal need to take advantage of.

Three wins in eight days would see the team sitting pretty with an FA Cup quarter final to come as well as a trip to Bayern with a chance of progressing. They would also continue their current good league run which has seen them take 10 of the last 12 points available. The race for a top four finish could go all the way and every single point is precious at this stage.

Chelsea have become very inconsistent and if Arsenal can catch fourth placed Spurs they can catch Chelsea too. Arsenal can put it up to both of them by beating Villa with Chelsea traveling to City the following day and Spurs going to West Ham the night after that. It could be an ideal opportunity for Arsenal to make up ground when those two teams might just drop some points.

All in all it promises to be a fascinating eight days for Arsenal and hopefully it can be the week to kick start a strong finish to the season. I'll be previewing all of those games nearer to the dates as well as reviewing them all afterwards as usual.

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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