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Arsenal Re-Ignite Their Title Challenge

Four weeks ago, Arsenal’s title challenge was over. The home defeat to Chelsea had seen everyone and their dog line up to kick Arsene Wenger’s team. While they were still licking their wounds, Manchester City snatched a win against the usual collection of youngsters, sprinkled with experience in the League Cup. Not good enough, not strong enough, need another striker they cried.

Well here we are then, on December 30th, Arsenal are tucked in 3rd, with a game in hand, which is against Bolton Wanderers at the Emirates next week. Win that and they go second in the table. Yet as the Portsmouth fans who have witnessed tonight’s thrashing at the hands of the Gunners said, if they had a predatory striker, they’d have scored 20.

For all the failings that Arsenal are constantly accused off, it’s their lack of that predator in the box that seemingly holds them back from killing teams off that their rivals manage to snuff out. Yet, it feels churlish to criticise a side that have score 51 goals in 19 Premiership games and could be second this time next week. Of course, as my fellow EPL talk writer Eric Altshul wrote earlier this week, Arsenal have a crucial 4 game period coming up from January 27th.

The results against the other big clubs do not determine the Premiership title, you only have to look at Liverpool’s result last season to see how little it effects the Premiership outcome. It is the games that you should win, that slip through your fingers that cost you titles and cups. For every emphatic thrashing of Portsmouth, there’s a defeat at Sunderland or a draw at West Ham United. Those are the games, especially the West Ham match when Arsenal threw away a 2-0 lead that will keep them from going top next week.

Of course, Wenger is one of the best managers at protecting his players and keeping his cards close to his chest. If he thinks he needs a striker, he’s not the type to come out and say it, he usually just goes out and gets his man. Now, with Arsenal having a real chance to get their hands on the Premier League title, having someone who has an ability to scuff the ball in off his backside is exactly what Arsenal need. Financially Wenger could, within reason, land any striker outside of the Premier League to give them that final piece.

For all the doom mongers complaining when he sold Adebayor and Toure, for a combined £41 million, the dissenting voices seem to have grown increasingly quiet. Replacing Toure with the elegant Vermaelen was a masterstroke that has seen the Belgian weigh in with some important goals from the back. With the injuries to van Persie, Bendtner, Walcott, Denilson and Fabregas and the impending African Cup of Nations taking Song, Wenger may be forced into the market whether he likes it or not.

Of course, the one major bonus to the injuries that have blighted Arsenal is the continued presence of Andrei Arshavin, who has continued to rein in his own attacking instincts for the benefit of the team. The lad has given a real team performance over the last few weeks at the expense of personal glory and has re-affirmed his reputation as an excellent footballer.

So Arsenal finish a year which has seen them continue to play beautiful football, but miss out on the big prizes. Perhaps Wenger has already decided what part of the jigsaw is required to complete the beautiful with a little bit of brawn in the box.

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  1. dwf

    January 1, 2010 at 7:01 pm

    The stars and the moon are aligning perfectly for Arsenal. Winning the game in hand means they will be sitting pretty in the title race, only one point behind Chelsea. No doubt Arsenal will miss Song during the African Nations’ Cup. But not as much as Chelsea will be missing four key players, most notably Drogba, Essien, and Obi Mikel, during the African competition. Arsenal will have an easier time covering Song’s absence with Ramsey and Diaby. Chelsea have only thin cover for their holding midfielders and for Drogba. As good as Anelka is, he doesn’t pose the same threat or strike the same psychological fear factor in defenses as Drogba. While the Ivory Coast and Ghana will likely advance in the African tournament, Cameroon will be eliminated sooner, meaning Song could return fresher to Arsenal before the tournament finishes. Chelsea have struggled of late, even with these African players, and surely will struggle more without them, certainly more than Arsenal will struggle without Song.

    Just as Chelsea will drop points, so will ManU. They remain stretched thin on the back line. O’Shea remains out of the line up for months ahead. Even with Rio Ferdinand returning, he won’t be in full form, if ever again.

    The second half of the season and Chelsea and ManU are trending downward, while Arsenal are trending upward just at the right time. With every passing game Arsenal gain consistency and the team confidence that consistency inspires. Should Chelsea and MauU drop points, in turn they will lose confidence.

    With Arsenal scoring goals again from all positions, is a new January transfer striker really necessary, especially with Bendtner soon returning? Wenger has long been loathe to deny younger players an opportunity to earn their playing time and disrupt fragile team chemistry. With the championship tantalizingly close this year, will Wenger go for broke this time on a proven goal machine like Dzeko of Cignac? After all, last year his splashed the cash on Arshavin. That turned out well enough to get Arsenal into fourth place Champions league qualification. So, he may be playing his cards close to his vest again and have something up his sleeve this year too. Ultimately defense wins championships. Other than a striker taken on loan, more likely Wenger will shore up central defense,or perhaps even getting a world class goal keeper, such as Hugo Lloret, to replace that nervous Nelly, Almunia.

    Wenger has an ample war chest to go shopping. The Arsenal chairman in the past has said as much, only for Wenger to reply he’d return the money. But that was when Arsenal wasn’t sitting in 2nd place and one point out of first place. With 40 million available netted from the sales of Toure and Adebayor (How’d that work out? The former looks finished, the latter is pure team poison), plus another 20-25 million available if Wenger insisted (which the board would never deny him), certainly the funds are available certainly the funds are available to buy a goal keeper, central defender, and a striker. Spend now, and the championship would seem a stone cold mortal lock.

    But hey, it’s always easy spending other people’s money. Just ask any Wall Street banker.

  2. jleau

    December 31, 2009 at 1:19 pm

    Arsenal were fantastic, but Porstmouth barely offered any resistence. Ramsey’s goal was class but the defense was pretty much just watching him.

    The Gunners have some real problems they need Cesc back, a striker, and they are going to miss Song immensely during ACN. Diaby has really come on but he just does not offer the same qualities that Song has.

  3. Tyson

    December 30, 2009 at 11:24 pm

    It just goes to show when you get caught up in the crap that newspapers and the media spew to get your attention you are being misled.

    Arsenals season was never over all those weeks ago and they are clawing back from a good position.

    I still think the title race is primarily between Manchester United and Chelsea as they have the most expansive squads and can deal with injuries to important players while Liverpool and Arsenals season hinges around a few key players being available to play.

    Arsenal and Liverpool can still produce the quality to overcome practically any challenge you put in front of them but like Manchester United and Chelsea they need good form and a consistent team with some good players to go on a winning streak.

    New year will bring new challenges. I think Manchester United and Manchester City will be the two teams to keep an eye on.

    Manchester United have scored 8ngoals in the last two games. When they get their shit together at the back the chances of them going on a long run of imperious form is good as they usually get their shit together around this time of the year.

    On the other hand City will also most likely be going on a run. Even though I disagree with Hughes being fired they couldn’t have picked a better time in the season to do it as from the hiring of Mancini City have 8 games against teams in the lower half of the table. They are unlikely to lost for a few weeks from today onwards. If their opponents drop points during that time period City could have a serious charge at the top 4.

    Chelsea will be without Drogba, Obi Mikel and Malouda while Wenger and Rafa have both said their upcoming games are difficult and complained about the match making process.

    All in all my “To Watch” teams for the next 2 months are United and City. I predict they will win quite a few while their main top 4 opponents excluding Tottenham don’t do quite as well.

  4. Brett

    December 30, 2009 at 9:53 pm

    I was pretty disappointed to come home from work to find that FSC caused my DVR to miss the first 11 minutes of the Arsenal game. Thankfully the game was still 0-0.

    Also, there were a few transmission errors on the regular Setanta station during the United game.

  5. MartinJ

    December 30, 2009 at 8:47 pm

    I meant to say, of course, that Setanta was supposed to cover the Manchester United-Wigan match. I realize the Arsenal game was on FSC.

  6. MartinJ

    December 30, 2009 at 8:46 pm

    I saw on Twitter that someone else couldn’t get TV coverage from Setanta-i. I recorded it and at the moment (Wednesday 8:45pm) Setanta has no live coverage and nothing was taped either. Is anyone else experiencing problems with Setanta? Perhaps The Gaffer can investigate as he often does???

    • The Gaffer

      December 30, 2009 at 8:59 pm

      According to Setanta, they’re aware of the issue and have reached out to the Setanta-i team and they are working on fixing the problem.

      The Gaffer

  7. The Gaffer

    December 30, 2009 at 8:44 pm

    Anyone else having problems getting Setanta-i to work tonight? I’m unable to get the Man United v Wigan game to work. Looks like Setanta-i is having issues. Hopefully they’ll be fixed soon, but I’m concerned because we’re going into a holiday weekend and Setanta’s offices may be closed to fix the issues.

    One more thing. How many of you have enjoyed being able to watch five continuous days of Premier League matches? It’s been marvelous.

    The Gaffer

    • MNUfan1991

      December 30, 2009 at 11:10 pm

      Me too 🙁

  8. pakar bisnis online

    December 30, 2009 at 8:42 pm

    good articel arsenal

  9. The Gaffer

    December 30, 2009 at 8:16 pm

    Arsenal was incredible tonight, but let’s see how they do in their next few games against teams they hate playing such as Bolton Wanderers and Everton. Plus they face a true test against Manchester United in late January.

    A couple of other observations about the game:

    * Did any other Fox Soccer Channel viewers who taped this game come home to find that the DVR started recording the game at 3pm ET instead of 2:45pm ET and missed the first 12 minutes of the game?

    * Interesting to hear the Pompey supporters chanting “Sack the board.” I don’t see that happening anytime soon. Will this be the longest season on record for Pompey supporters?

    The Gaffer

    • Peter

      December 31, 2009 at 10:52 am

      Arsenal may have been brilliant but whether you score 4 or 24 you still only get 3 points and besides this was portsmouth who are in turmil off the pitch and on it, lets just wait until they have to play the big boys. Also Bolton and Everton are both reared at the bottom half of the table and one is managerless so they should be six points in the bag.

    • Steve A

      December 31, 2009 at 12:18 pm

      Comcast’s block for the game was from 2:30 to 5. They filled time with highlights and a goal montage from the first half of the EPL season.

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