All season long, Arsenal fans have stared at their fixture list for March with a sense of foreboding. Arsenal will face fixtures against Bayern Munich, Tottenham, Chelsea, Manchester City and Everton. However, there’s also an absolutely vital period on the immediate horizon. If Arsenal fail to perform in February, those fixtures could be rendered almost redundant.
During the coming month, Arsenal will be tested on three fronts. At present, Arsenal are still in the running for the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup. Poor performances next month could see their odds of winning any of those competitions significantly reduced.
Let’s take the Champions League. On March 19, Arsenal host Bayern Munich. Arsene Wenger will hope his team have learnt the lessons of last season: When the two sides met in this competition in 2012/13, the first leg was also at the Emirates Stadium. However, Arsenal’s capitulation effectively killed the tie. A 3-1 defeat gave the Gunners a huge mountain to climb. Even the subsequent 2-0 win at the Allianz Arena was not enough to reverse the deficit.
Bayern Munich are a fantastic team, and the current champions of both Germany and Europe. However, Arsenal must attempt to keep the tie alive for March’s second leg. Even a draw would not be a bad result: Wenger’s team have already shown they are capable of nicking a result in Germany.
This season, Arsenal have been able to rely on the fantastic central defensive partnership of Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker. In their last 10 home games, they have conceded just one goal: a stunning strike from Everton’s Gerard Deulofeu. If Koscielny and Mertesacker can prevent Bayern from grabbing a crucial away goal, then Arsenal will stand a decent chance of progressing to the quarter-finals.
Arsenal are also one round away from the quarter-finals in the FA Cup. However, this will be no two-legged affair; it’s a simple knockout format. As yet, the draw has not been made. However, Arsenal will certainly hope to receive a home tie. In each of the last two rounds, the Gunners have been fortunate enough to play at the Emirates Stadium, and their progress has been serene.
The FA Cup is a hugely important competition for Arsenal this year. It presents the most direct route to silverware. It’s tantalising to think that the Gunners are just four victories away from ending a nine-year wait for a trophy. However, one slip in February could see those hopes instantly dashed.
Finally, we come to the Premier League. Arsenal currently sit top of the table, and most of their focus is understandably on their surprise title charge. There is a pervasive sense that this is Arsenal’s best chance to win the league in a decade. Given the vast resources available to the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea, it may be some time before such an opportunity comes round again.
The month is bookended by two winnable home fixtures against strugglers Crystal Palace and Sunderland. Although both teams have undergone a recent upsurge in form under new managers, these are two fixtures Arsenal simply must win.
The other two Premier League matches Arsenal face in February should present a stiffer challenge. First, on February 8, they travel to Anfield to face Liverpool.
Liverpool’s recent draw at home to Aston Villa saw them fall slightly behind in the title race. However, they will view this as an opportunity to make up some ground on the league leaders.
Arsenal beat Liverpool relatively comfortably at the Emirates Stadium in the reverse fixture earlier this season. However, a match Anfield is a different prospect entirely. While a win would be fantastic, a draw would also be a creditable result.
In Arsenal’s next game, they face Manchester United in London. This ought to be a fascinating encounter. Despite their waning powers, United still have something of a hoodoo over Arsenal. David Moyes’ team beat the Gunners 1-0 back in November, in a match that still rankles with the Arsenal fans. United were on the ropes, and yet Arsenal still looked intimidated by the ghost of their past glories.
The goal in that game was scored by Robin van Persie, and he is likely to be available for selection along with Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata. The United Arsenal will face win February will be far stronger than the one recently dispatched by Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea.
Nevertheless, this is a game that Arsenal should win. They owe United a beating. This seems the perfect time to deliver it.
If Arsenal can take 10 points from the 12 available in February, it could be enough to keep them at the top of the table—especially when you consider that within the same month, Chelsea and Manchester City play each other. It’s thus impossible for them both to take maximum points in February.
A strong February is vital to Arsenal’s hopes of glory. Without it, the high-profile clashes awaiting in March are in danger of becoming insignificant.