Are Arsenal's Title Hopes over Following Loss at Stoke City?

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Are Arsenal's Title Hopes over Following Loss at Stoke City?
Rui Vieira/Associated Press
Is it over?

Arsene Wenger described Arsenal's loss at Stoke City as a "massive setback" to the team's title bid, according to Arsenal.com.

John Percy of the Telegraph concurred, saying the loss "condemned Arsenal to a potentially damaging defeat, leaving them four points behind Chelsea. and providing their doubters with further ammunition that they will fall short in their title challenge."

 

But is Arsenal finished?

Mathematically, the opportunity is not lost, although the advantage is clearly with Chelsea now. But Arsenal can still make up ground since there are enough games left to be played.

Rui Vieira/Associated Press

 

Is the task hopeless?

The daunting list of fixtures Arsenal still have to play leaves little room for optimism, though in sports everything is possible.

The next Premier League game is away at Tottenham Hotspur a fortnight from now. After this will be away at Chelsea in the third week of March. On the final weekend of the month, Arsenal will host Manchester City.

Added to this, Arsenal will play Everton at the weekend in the FA Cup. This will be followed four days later by the replay of their Champions League match against Bayern Munich to try to qualify for the Champions League quarterfinal, a goal which by all intents and purposes appears to be out of reach.

Sang Tan/Associated Press

 

Will Arsenal come through all this unscathed?

It is left to be seen. But to be the Premier League champions, they must rise to the challenge. Accordingly, they have no reason to moan about an unforgiving fixture list.

Is it not said that when the going gets tough, the tough get going? And is sports not a quest to demonstrate superiority? How can you show that you are superior when you continually fold in the face of demanding challenges?

Moreover, are there moments when character and superiority are more evident than when setbacks are encountered?

Were Arsenal to defeat Spurs, Everton, Chelsea and Manchester City as well as not dropping points in the seemingly less challenging fixtures, would there be any reason they would not win the Premier League title this season?

So hope is not lost, but Arsenal must spur themselves forward, defying the skepticism that still follows them and the huge challenges that lie ahead of them.

Sang Tan/Associated Press

 

What is Arsenal’s problem right now?

The team depends on its midfield to make things happen. This requires the creative players to be on top of their game. When this does not happen, the team quickly flounders.

Consequently, the likes of Santi Cazorla, Tomas Rosicky, Jack Wilshere and Mesut Ozil cannot afford to underperform in any match. When any of them does, the team is quickly neutralized.

Secondly, the team is still full of too much potential instead of finished product. Until the scale tilts the other way, Arsenal should not be expected to cast off their limitations any time soon. Instead, the rise to the next level will remain elusive.

As a result, if indeed it is true that Arsenal now possess a stronger financial power than they’ve had in the last nine years, they must begin looking ahead to the next season with an eye towards purchasing more world-class talents.

This is half of the manager’s job; it makes the on-field challenge more manageable and the task of winning high-profile matches more tenable.

Thirdly, the team seems to give up when its match plan doesn’t appear to go to according to the players’ presumed expectation.

One notices movement in the midfield grinding down to the lethargic, replaced by visible frustration, while some players hide instead of rising to the occasion.

Jon Super/Associated Press

The best part of this team is still the defensive side. Were the front five to fight like the defensive five, there’s no reason the team couldn’t face and defeat any Premier League opposition.

Fourthly, it still appears as though this team doesn’t believe in itself, despite the fact that it has reason to do so.

Contrast this with Liverpool and the point becomes clearer. Whereas Liverpool attack their match with vigor and confidence, Arsenal are tentative and peevish, ceding possession to their lesser opponents and allowing them to grow confident. It is a strange and exasperating approach by a team that should know better.

 

What can Arsenal do right now?

First of all, they should approach the remaining matches as though each were a Champions League match.

Were the match against Stoke City a Champions League match, wouldn’t Arsenal have been tipped by many to win it? How is it, then, that when it comes to the Champions League, Arsenal tend to rise to the occasion but seem to lose their confidence in league matches they should easily win?

Secondly, Arsenal must hope for a break in luck.

Alastair Grant/Associated Press

In a fifty-fifty match, one might say that it is luck (or chance, if you prefer) that breaks your way, causing the opposing defender to handle the ball inadvertently in the penalty box and thus conceding a penalty that leads to the match being lost.

Now, even if you call this mere chance, why shouldn’t it break your way rather than the other way round?

 

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