Arsenal's season has gone just about as well as fans could have hoped for. But with a crucial match against Manchester City looming, earning at least a point in a draw would be a huge statement that the team must make during a crucial juncture in their season.
Since late August, things have been coming up roses for the Gunners. They landed elite playmaker Mesut Ozil just before the transfer window closed, are now five points clear atop the Premier League table, have weathered a series of injuries and players such as Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud have taken their games to the next level.
But in the past week, things haven't been so smooth. The team drew at home against Everton, conceding a late goal just minutes after taking the lead. They then lost to Napoli in the final Champions League group-stage match, which didn't prevent them from advancing to the knockout stage but did keep them from winning the group.
It's a bit much to say that Arsenal's positive momentum throughout the beginning of the season has begun to wane. But if they fail to take any points in an away fixture at Manchester City's Etihad Stadium on Saturday, well, you can bet that talk will start up.
And with Chelsea up next, now is not a good time for the Gunners to sustain a losing streak.
For starters, there are also the obvious implications of this game. Manchester City are currently six points behind Arsenal on the table, so the chance to cut that in half is one they'll hope to seize. And Chelsea are just five points behind and could theoretically take over top spot on the table if the Gunners lose two straight.
It's not an easy stretch, having to play the two most popular picks to win the league title in the preseason in consecutive weeks. And a failure to take any points from those fixtures could be seriously demoralizing for a team that has been so bright all season long.
If Arsenal head into January having given up their lead on the table—or seeing it whittled away—you can bet the summer panic from fans begging the team to buy, buy, buy so as to compete with the top EPL sides will begin again. That's a distraction the team just doesn't need.
On the other hand, winning both games—or at least taking four points from the two—could launch the Gunners to a very nice lead atop the league. A little breathing room is always nice.
Which team wins?
Plus, taking points at the Etihad Stadium might take some of the mystique away from Manchester City's home ground. Only Bayern Munich in a Champions League match have taken points from City at their home stadium—the Bavarians won 3-1—and even a draw would be a major statement from the Gunners.
In many ways, the next month is Arsenal's litmus test this season. Between December 8 and January 4, the Gunners will have faced Everton, Napoli, Manchester City, Chelsea, Newcastle and Tottenham across three different competitions.
It's a one-month stretch that very well could define their season. Thus far, it hasn't gotten off to the most sterling of starts.
It's absolutely necessary they reverse that trend against Manchester City and at least earn a point in an extremely difficult road test.