The 2013/14 English Premier League fixtures are out! Rejoice, rejoice!
Now is the point where we can stop thinking about last season, what could have been and what was and start looking at the season ahead and what could be.
Now is the time when we all dare to dream.
Up and down the country, fans are looking at their team’s fixture lists and pinpointing where and when will be their toughest games and what matches they should be picking up points from.
Arsenal fans are no different.
Looking at the fixtures as a whole, it would seem the computer has given Arsenal respites of winnable games, then intervals of two or three tough ones in a row.
So we’re running down the 10 most difficult-looking fixtures in the Gunner’s 2013/14 campaign.
Recently, Arsenal haven’t enjoyed great starts to the season. In fact, they haven’t won their first fixture since they beat Portsmouth 4-1 at home on the opening day of 2009/10 season.
Portsmouth are now in League Two. That’s how long ago it was.
However, it’s the second and third fixtures of the season that are potential stumbling blocks and could end up defining their season.
If reports that Arsenal will finally spend some proper cash over the summer materialize, Wenger will want to win games and win games early to prove that he has invested well and can meet the heightened expectations.
An away trip to bipolar Fulham for the EPL’s second weekend could prove troublesome. Fulham notoriously play like title contenders at home but a half-drunk pub team on the road, and Arsenal have only recorded one victory against Fulham in their last five meetings.
August 31 sees the first big derby of the Premier League season: the North London Derby, the NLD, the… well, it’s Arsenal versus Tottenham Hotspur—there’s no other way to say it.
An Arsenal side strengthened with big-money signings (even for Arsenal’s standards) will be desperate not to lose at home to Spurs so early on, with the world watching. The pressure will be madder than a Joe Kinnear press conference.
If the strongest Arsenal side since they last won a trophy gets just three points from their first three games and lose to Spurs so early on, surely questions will again be asked of Arsene Wenger.
Imagine it. Piers Morgan will be unbearable.
Crystal Palace away might not seem the most obvious of tough games for Arsenal on the fixture sheet, but the loss to a relegation contender is a banana peel that Arsenal usually steps on, slips and slides into a broom closet to a comic sound effect of “wah, wah, wahwahwahhh,” appearing again from within the closet with a mop on their head like a wig.
They didn’t drop many points last season to the league’s smaller teams, but they did the season before (Blackburn, QPR, Fulham and Wigan all beat Arsenal in 2011/12), and when you look at their fixture list, this seems to stand out as the most obvious point they could come unstuck by one of the potential relegation contenders.
By October 26, Arsenal won’t have played a big team since the North London Derby in August and could become complacent. A trip to Selhurst Park, where Ian Holloway’s side would love to take a big scalp, could be on the cards, and that could be a disastrous start to two really tough fixtures.
Liverpool travel to the Emirates on November 2, and if Brendan Rodgers’ relatively young side have made the progress expected of them and are knocking on the door of Champions League football, they could prove themselves by taking the three points back to Merseyside with them.
And then, the fixture no one wants, away at Manchester United. It wasn’t that long ago Arsenal conceded eight at Old Trafford, and they lost there last season.
They’ll want to go to Old Trafford with six points from the last two games, but they won’t necessarily get all six.
Anyone who is football cliché literate knows that football fixtures only come in one form during December: “thick and fast.”
Two days after their West Ham game, they have a trip to Newcastle United.
And with Arsene Wenger being English football’s head champion for a winter break, an away trip to the blisteringly cold Northeast in late December won’t do anything to stop Wenger from flogging that dead horse (that’s providing a Newcastle fan isn’t trying to punch it at the time.)
As it will inevitably be by then, Joe Kinnear’s Newcastle United will be desperate for a late Christmas present of beating a big team at home.
And they’re more than capable of taking three points from Arsenal, if the Gunners' weary legs are not up for the Siberia-style temperatures. Just ask the Manchester United side who got thumped 3-0 at St. James’ Park on January 4, 2012, or the Liverpool side who also conceded three on December 11, 2010.
March is a right horrible cow of a month for Arsenal.
If Arsenal’s March was a woman, it’s the sort who would marry you, sleep with your brother then take all of your money and never let you see your kid.
They face three teams who will almost all certainly be challenging for Champions League places.
The White Hart Lane leg of the North London Derby takes place on March 15. Arsenal haven’t beaten Tottenham Hotspur away in the league since November 2004. And even then they still conceded four goals.
And if one away trip to a local rival wasn’t enough, they travel to Stamford Bridge to face Chelsea a week later. Which, if a resurgent Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea are challenging for the title, it will be a game that they take very seriously.
And the month of death is capped off the next week with a nice home game…
…against Manchester City.
They are three very tough games that have the potential to derail Arsenal’s season and lay waste to anything they have achieved prior to this.
And Arsenal fans desperate for a trophy will have to think twice. A good cup run would mean games really mount up around March. And to that potential Champions League games in between these matches. Maybe home and away games against Bayern Munich or Barcelona, for example.
The worst April Fools Day prank you can play on Arsenal is convincing them that the fixture computer has crashed and they've lost all the results for March so they need to play them again.
Again, Norwich City might not seem the toughest of the 38 games Arsenal will play next season at first glance, but when you think about it, it could be a poisonous berry on top of the cake, when they really wanted a cherry.
Or at the very least, a piece of fruit that wasn't poison.
Despite avoiding a relegation battle ever since they were promoted to the Premier League, on paper, you wouldn’t say that Norwich will definitely be safe on the last day of the season.
Norwich’s last four games make Arsenal’s March look like warm-weather training. They face Liverpool (H), Manchester United (A), Chelsea (A) before Arsenal (H) on May 11.
Their Premier League lives could depend on that home game against Arsenal, and Norwich can sure turn it on against a big side for the season’s final fixture. (They beat Manchester City 3-2 at the Etihad on the final day of last season.)
And if a Champions League spot for Arsenal or, dare we say it, the Premier League, relies on the last day of the season Manchester City have West Ham at home, Manchester United have Southampton away, Chelsea have Cardiff away and Spurs are at home to Villa.
Of the five of them, Arsenal have potentially the toughest fixture.
It won't be an easy season for Arsenal, but then again, it never is. But will Arsene Wenger's men make it look difficult?
Looking at the fixtures, what do you think will be Arsenal’s toughest games? What games do you think they’re definitely win? Answers in the comments below.