Arsenal FC: Why December Will Be Crucial to the Gunners' Season
Is there any team in the world more inconsistent than the current Arsenal squad?
At their very best, the Gunners are a near-perfect fusion of football talent seemingly hand-picked from around the globe. The attack is a dynamic mix of German power, Spanish creativity, French flair and English passion, while the defense is—dare I say it—solid.
When Arsenal clicks, they really are a joy to watch for any football fan, and they've shown in the past that at their best they can beat any team in the world.
If only Arsenal could always play like that.
At their worst, Arsene Wenger's side looks like 11 men who just met each other playing a pickup game in a park, with the attack unable to create simple shots on target, the midfield moving the ball around lethargically and the back line defending like schoolboys.
On any given weekend, either of those two teams can show up.
Just last weekend, Arsenal dismantled rivals Spurs in a 5-2 win, a game where the midfield trio of Arteta, Wilshere and Cazorla ran the show. Podolski and Walcott—in particular the latter—tormented the wings, and Olivier Giroud was the perfect target man.
Even the defense was... well, I'll leave it at that.
It was that same team that, give or take a few changes, was abysmal in a loss at Norwich a few weeks earlier, were outplayed at home to Schalke in the Champions League and looked completely uninspired against Manchester Untied at Old Trafford.
The world may never know why this Arsenal side, which clearly has quality on paper, is so frustratingly inconsistent. Supporters of other clubs can look on and sympathize with Arsenal supporters or, more realistically, laugh at them. Arsenal supporters themselves have no choice but to stick with their team, occasionally coming up with excuses to paper over the gaping cracks.
As an Arsenal fan, I've decided to accept the team's inconsistencies and be cautiously optimistic about each game. Wednesday's game against Everton at Goodison Park will mark the last Arsenal match of November, a month which was, like the team, hot and cold.
While Olivier Giroud finally found his shooting boots, the defense conceded seven goals in four league games. The win against Spurs was inspiring, but the loss at Manchester United was disheartening.
Somehow, Arsenal sit at sixth in the table, a position that really flatters them considering they only have five wins from 13 games. Looking forward, the month of December looks like one that could really shape the remaining six months of the Gunners' season.
Of the eight matches in the month, no single one is easy. But on paper they should all be wins, starting off next weekend at home against Swansea, a team that has cooled off considerably since their flying start to the season.
It all depends on which Arsenal team shows up.
While I could see Wenger's men outclassing a Swansea side that play a similar style of football to the North London outfit, the Swans have done well against bigger opposition this season, drawing Chelsea, Liverpool (if they count as bigger opposition) and unluckily losing 1-0 at Manchester City. Sadly, I wouldn't be surprised if Swansea got a result at the Emirates next weekend.
The rest of the league matches are similar cases. West Brom at home the following weekend should be three points in the bag, but with the way the third-placed Baggies (feels strange writing that) have been playing recently, an upset could definitely be on the cards.
That game is followed by trips to Reading and Wigan, two teams that both lie in the bottom half of the table but have caused Arsenal problems in the past. Wigan have a history of getting upsets against Arsenal, winning 2-1 at the Emirates this April as well as staging a 10-minute comeback to win 3-2 a few seasons ago.
Last December, Arsenal put any hopes of an upset to bed by winning 4-0 at the DW Stadium, and hopefully things will go accordingly this season. You never know with Arsenal, though...
The subsequent trip to the Madejski Stadium will be an interesting one, as the only recent experience Arsenal have with Reading was that 7-5 win about a month ago in the Capital One Cup. Although both sets of teams were far from full-strength that day, the fact that Reading actually had a 4-0 lead over Arsenal at one point shows that this probably won't be an easy win.
Paradoxically, though, anything but three points would be a worry.
The final two games of December are at home to West Ham and Newcastle, which on paper seem to be the two most challenging matches of the month.
West Ham are only a point behind Arsenal at the moment, and have been one of this season's surprise overachievers. The 3-1 win at Upton Park back in October was far from easy, so the Gunners will definitely have to dig deep to win this Boxing Day London derby.
The final game of the month at home to Newcastle may seem like the toughest match of December, but in actuality it might not be so difficult. Of course it'll be far from easy—no Premier League match is easy—but Newcastle have looked a completely different team this season compared to their brilliant 2011-12 campaign, and not in a good way.
Currently in 14th place, Alan Pardew's side have only scored 13 goals in 13 games this season, and look like they're sinking back into mid-table mediocrity.
Wedged in those six league games are a Champions League group stage match against Olympiacos in Greece and a Capital One Cup quarterfinal away to League Two side Bradford. A Champions League win in Greece combined with a Montpellier result against Schalke would see Arsenal win their group, but since the Gunners have already sealed qualification, a loss or draw to Olympiacos wouldn't be the end of the world.
Winning the group would still give Arsenal the possibility of playing the likes of Real Madrid or AC Milan in the knockout stages, so whether or not Arsene Wenger's side win Group B is a matter of pride rather than practicality.
How will December be for Arsenal?
The Capital One Cup quarterfinal at Bradford is one of Arsenal's most important matches in December. Although Arsene Wenger is likely to field a weak starting 11, anything but a win would be complete humiliation for Arsenal. This game should be a guaranteed ticket to the semifinals, and from there the Gunners should have real hope that this is a tournament they can win and end their seven-season trophy drought.
Arsenal's fortunes in December will have an enormous impact on the rest of the season. If the month proves to be successful, Arsenal will start the new year in the top four and take that steam into January, which sees them play Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool.
If Arsenal fail to find form next month, they could very well start the new year below Spurs in the table, and even outside of the top six.
How will the Gunners fare in the month of December?
Only Arsenal knows.
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