As the Premier League title race reaches its most pivotal moment, do Arsenal have what it takes to bounce back and stop City’s charge?
It wasn’t long ago that Arsenal looked to be Champions elect. After Manchester City conceded a last-minute equaliser against Nottingham Forest, the Gunners looked all but certain to win the Premier League for the first time since the 2003/4 Invincibles season.
But after three consecutive draws and the incredible form of Manchester City, who have won their last six games, are the wheels starting to fall off for Arsenal at the wrong time?
Draw, Draw, Draw
If you were to tell Arsenal fans, after their loss to Man City on the 15th February, that they would be unbeaten in the league until they next played their rivals for the title, I’m sure they’d have been overjoyed.
However, given the context, sometimes a draw can be as damaging as a defeat…
The manner of their last three draws, two of which came from 2-0 leads, means that the team is likely suffering from a huge lack of confidence.
A second half capitulation at Liverpool, partly inspired by Granit Xhaka’s ludicrous idea to wind up the Liverpool players, saw the league-leaders lucky to leave Anfield with a point.
Anyone can excuse a team for dropping points at Anfield, it happens to the best teams in the world, but the alarm bells would’ve been ringing when Arsenal again let a two-goal lead slip in their next match, this time against struggling West Ham.
Bukayo Saka, a player who has played 54 games for Arsenal and England this season, seemed to be struggling with fatigue the whole match. In the 52nd minute, that fatigue appeared to have played it’s part when Sake missed a penalty to make it 3-1, opening the door for West Ham to equalise two minutes later.
Back-to-back wobbles from 2-0 up is concerning enough, but when you find yourself 3-1 down against the league’s bottom side with ten minutes to go, something has gone fundamentally wrong.
Despite a spirited comeback orchestrated by Martin Odegaard and Saka to make it 3-3, it has to be seen as two points lost rather than a point saved.
Manchester City now find themselves five points behind Arsenal with two games in hand. With the monumentally important game against Arsenal on Wednesday, if City are to emerge victorious and win their two games in hand, we could witness a nine-point swing in the table.
Are the demons of yesteryear returning to haunt Arsenal?
Unfortunately for Arsenal fans, this feeling of throwing away a lead may feel all too familiar. While it was not the Premier League title that they were vying for last season, fans will remember all too well their team’s failure to qualify for the Champions League.
The Gunners looked nailed on for a place in Europe’s elite competition, until three losses on the bounce against Crystal Palace, Brighton and Southampton derailed their push.
Despite four good results that followed, a calamity away at both Spurs and Newcastle ruled them out of the top-four race in favour of their North London rivals.
Now is it possible that the memory of this failure is coming back to haunt the relatively inexperienced crop of Arsenal players?
Since he came into the Arsenal team, it had been hard to argue that William Saliba was not the best centre back in the league. His presence and ability to bring the ball out from the back made him an integral part of Arsenal’s title charge.
However, against Sporting Lisbon Saliba picked up an injury that has since seen him side-lined. During Saliba’s absence, Arsenal have failed to keep a clean sheet, and this will be a major concern with Man City right around the corner.
Seven goals conceded in their last three games is the main concern for Arsenal, especially as it will be Erling Haaland rather than Theo Walcott running at them on Wednesday night.
Just starting to look over their shoulder
In a recent interview with the Footballer’s Football podcast, West Ham striker Michail Antonio stated that:
“Last week was the first time all season that this person (Antonio’s source in Colney) heard players start talking about City and how well City have been playing (rather than focusing on their own play).”
If what Antonio’s source is telling him is correct, then it shines a light on the mental state of the Arsenal team.
For the first time this season, it appears that the Arsenal players are genuinely worried about City and the threat they pose, and this has thrown them off their own game plan.
Arteta will have a serious job on his hands if he is going to be able to motivate his players to get a result against his old team, but as it stands the title looks like City’s to lose.
Still a glimmer of hope?
Many Arsenal fans have been quick to write off their team after their last three performances, and while it seems that the momentum is definitely with Man City, technically destiny is still in Arsenal’s hands.
If Arsenal are to beat City, and that is a big if, then they would go eight points clear with City having two games in hands.
One of the glimmering hopes for Arsenal will be City’s extreme fixture list. After their loss to Sporting Lisbon in the Europa League, Arsenal only have the Premier League to focus on, while City still have to play the FA Cup final, as well as two very challenging fixtures against Real Madrid.
City have a lot more games to play than Arsenal, and this could serve the Gunners well, especially if City players start to fatigue.
Regardless of all the ifs and buts, one thing is for sure; Wednesday’s match is a must win for both sides, but is especially so for Arsenal. A draw puts the title in City’s hands, so if you’re Arsenal, Wednesday will be all or nothing.