All too often in recent years, Arsenal fans have been left crushed in the first few months of the calendar year. With opportunities to collect accolades and triumph in one or more competitions going begging due to injuries, inconsistent play or just bad luck, Arsene Wenger's men always seem to lose their way in February or March.
Recent examples would be the devastating last-minute defensive kerfuffle in the 2011 Carling Cup Final, which gifted later-relegated Birmingham City the silverware Arsenal so desperately craved and set Arsenal on a spectacular downturn which ended all chances of success that season. More recently, a four-day stretch last February wherein Arsenal's FA Cup and Champions League chances were all but destroyed.
With Arsenal languishing in sixth place, 18 points adrift from leaders Manchester United, the Gunners cannot whatsoever afford another lapse in concentration which would gift rivals points in the table and progress in the cups. Ahead of time, then, Arsenal can set themselves up for a very tricky run of fixtures with a strong and resolute showing when champions Manchester City pull into the Emirates this Sunday.
In this eight-day period beginning on Sunday, Arsenal will also host Swansea City for an FA Cup Third Round Replay (Jan. 16) before heading south on the Piccadilly line to Stamford Bridge to face in-form Chelsea the following Sunday. Before the storm comes, Arsenal must prepare—and prepare well.
It was Sun Tzu who said that "in peace, prepare for war—in war, prepare for peace", and from one field marshal to the next, Wenger must be sure to keep his players fit and focused for this important month of football.
Many fans have noticed much of Arsenal's inconsistencies this term come during times of fixture congestion, evidenced by defeats by Bradford City and Manchester United coming less than a week after the preceding Arsenal victory.
In this sense, Wenger must be sure to rest a few key players at a time in order to ensure the strongest possible showing for all three crucial games. Rotating the centre-backs, ensuring the likes of Jack Wilshere, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott don't burn out and giving Walcott, Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud all a chance to shine at centre-forward would go some way to doing so.
While victory in all three games might be a thought a little far-fetched for most, it is certainly possible should Wenger's men perform at their best throughout.
However, arguably the most vital of all those games is the Third Round Replay.
Arsenal's fans are more desperate than ever in their clamour for silverware. Although a league title would be ideal, most fans would realise it's simply not going to happen this year, and a strong cup run would do wonders for fan and board confidence in Wenger and his side.
That being said, Arsenal have struggled against Michael Laudrup's men in the past, with Michu scoring twice on his first visit to the Emirates just over a month ago. Swansea City are one of the most exciting football teams in the British Isles—knocking them off would keep the Gunners in good stead to contend down the stretch.
So while a league title is almost out of reach this season, the chances to climb back up the table to start contending with the Manchester sides are coming thick and fast over the coming months. If Wenger can master the art of war and have his boys prepared for some particularly tough fixtures, Arsenal can look forward to a strong end to what has been a disappointing campaign for many.
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