Reasons for and against…Arsenal qualifying for the Champions League
Arsene Wenger has come out fighting after the stalemate at the Reebok Stadium last night, insisting that Arsenal’s challenge for fourth place is still very much alive.
So, standard ‘for and against’ format, will they make it…
Robin Van Persie. Obviously. With Chelsea and Liverpool the closest rivals for the last coveted Champions League spot, Arsenal have a comparative advantage in the goals department. The striker melodrama at Chelsea is well-publicised, and although a talented player, Liverpool’s Luis Suarez doesn’t match the conversion rate of the Dutchman.
The Fixture List. Of Arsenal’s last eleven games, only two fall outside of the ‘very winnable’ category, Manchester City on the 7th April and Chelsea on 21st - and both of those are at the Emirates.
An easing injury list. Although the table doesn’t make particularly cheery reading for Arsenal fans at the moment, it could be a lot worse given their absentee list up until now. Bacary Sagna only just returning after his leg break in the North London derby, Jack Wilshere out since pre-season, Thomas Vermaelen and Johan Djourou in and out of the team, and Abou Diaby and Kieran Gibbs stapled to the treatment table - those are all players who have come back, or are due back in the team. While their collective absence has undeniably hurt Arsenal, the team is still in contention at this stage - and this is a side that will gradually be improved on with those returns in the coming months.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Easy to pick out, and - because of his nationality - just as easy to overhype. Disclaimers aside, this is the type of player Arsenal have needed for a long time - maybe even since the departure of Marc Overmars. Quick, direct, impulsive, and exciting - the anti-Walcott if you will. A big, big asset in the run-in, as much a source of enthusiasm in his teammates as he is an agent of optimism for the crowd.
Weaker opponents. This must be a strange time to be a fan of Arsenal, Liverpool or Chelsea, languishing in the also-ran spots while Manchester City, Tottenham and Manchester United disappear into the distance. On the plus slide, and from an Arsenal perspective, at least all three sides are slumping simultaneously - because a stronger Chelsea or Liverpool would possible already be out of reach. Additionally, while the more negative elements of the Gunner faithful will expect dropped points in winnable games before the end of the season, there’s no reason to believe that their closest challengers won’t be equally as wasteful.
Lack of strength in depth. Yes, the injury crisis is easing, but there’s equally no guarantee against other players being lost before May - and Arsenal’s squad is comparatively thin amongst their current Premier League peer group. It’s a point that has been made many times before, but an injury to Robin Van Persie or Wojciech Szczesny will almost certainly condemn Arsenal to Europa League Purgatory.
Fan negativity. The club’s transfer policy, Arsene Wenger’s tactical approach, and Tottenham’s recent resurgence - all combining to create a jarring reality for Arsenal fans at the moment. And you can feel it at the Emirates. In the ‘pro’ section, I mentioned the ease of the run-in, but that could become a whole lot more testing if supporter anxiety and negativity continues to seep onto the pitch.
A lack of options. Both Chelsea and Liverpool have more than one way of playing, and Arsenal quite clearly are very one-dimensional. Regardless of how well or how consistent the other two clubs are, there is at least an option of a plan b - Carrol for Suarez, Drogba for Torres. Different approaches for different opposition. Van Persie for Chamakh? Nope.
The Champions League. As laudable as it is to go deep in Europe’s premier club competition, when you’re trying to requalify through a league finish, it’s actually a hindrance. While Chelsea are also still in the draw, Liverpool are free from continental commitment. The two-legged fixture against AC Milan mercifully backs onto an FA Cup tie and a week long rest respectively, but should Arsenal progress it’s going to be asking a lot of that paper-thin first eleven.
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