Arsenal FC: Can Misfiring Gunners Break Manchester United's Grip on EPL Trophy?
Arsenal have gone from a few weeks ago being hailed as the team that could potentially advance in Europe at the expense of Barcelona, while picking up a "lesser" trophy at Wembley in the meantime and then finally teaching Manchester United an FA Cup lesson that was long overdue.
The story now is not quite so promising as Arsenal choked at Wembley in the League Cup final, were undone by poor play and then some dubious refereeing at the Nou Camp, before an FA Cup match where they were outdone by a defense that was well-organized and solid, and a Manchester United side who just seem to know what is required in big games.
This last month's series of body blows would really have shaken the belief of Wenger's side, and the club's long-suffering fans. So many times since 2006 Arsenal have been in excellent positions, before being undone by either injury or just not having the personnel needed to grind out a result when one was required.
In the morale-cracking defeat to Barcelona, the London side were comprehensively outplayed before suffering a refereeing moment that was beyond pedantic, Robin Van Persie being sent off for a second bookable offence that was quite frankly laughable. Barcelona were by far the better side, though, and made Arsenal look like one of the sides that the Gunners play around with on a week-to-week basis in the EPL.
Arsenal were placed in that match in the unfamiliar position of having to defend for long periods, chasing the ball without reward, before occasionally winning the ball and then giving it back soon afterward.
The defeat there was comprehensive, though the manner in which it was gained in the end was tainted severely by some substandard refereeing that really in the aftermath, Barcelona should complain about more, because it took the sheen off an otherwise flawless performance.
Arsenal bounced back quite well when they visited Old Trafford, probably as a result of the team feeling as though they were rather hard done by in their visit to Spain.
Sir Alex Ferguson fielded a rather changed lineup for the FA Cup tie and there have been numerous comments about him playing "seven" defenders, when really he did push two attack-minded defensive players into the midfield, and one of them ended up scoring at the end of a splendid piece of football.
Arsenal themselves did play some excellent football, but were undone time and again by the old fox in United's goal, Edwin Van Der Sar, who produced a performance that would have had Wenger shaking his head in disbelief at the capabilities of true top-class keeping talent.
Manuel Almunia did not actually play badly himself, and perhaps again (Almunia did have a few choice words to say in the aftermath of the CL defeat), could have blamed his teammates in the end for not being more robust and determined in keeping United at bay.
Again though, United seemed unbeatable, and no matter what Arsenal threw at them, they could not break the spell that Ferguson's men seem to have over them.
Although this does not bode well for Arsenal overtaking United in the next few weeks, the good thing for Arsenal is that United are still challenging on three fronts, and one that is potentially more important for Ferguson than the title itself. The Eureopean Cup, now called the Champions League, has long been the grail of European football, and Ferguson has always been rather seduced by its charms.
It could well be that Ferguson would be at pains to guarantee progress in the CL, which could potentially leave him taking risks with his selections in the league that could give Wenger and his Arsenal side another chance at the silverware they so desperately crave.
The coming weekends match for Arsenal is beyond crucial, if they do not get three points, and United do, it could well be the title race is over. United do, however, have an imposing program ahead of them, fraught with peril and danger. Any slip-up could potentially ruin their season, and of course, they have not actually won anything yet.
Bayer Leverkusen are one club who could tell a few tales about such seasons.
In 2002, Leverkusen lost a five-point lead in the last three rounds of the Bundesliga, lost the final of the German cup and were defeated by Real Madrid in the Champions League final.
Could the same happen to United? Of course it could, these things are never set in stone.
Arsenal have to pick themselves up again and pull some sort of form together in the last few rounds of the EPL. Consistency from them now may just be enough to somehow pull a golden rabbit from a hat that has been only giving up dirty tricks for them so far.
United's heavy schedule and Arsenal's youthful ebullience could be enough to put Arsenal back in the hunt for the EPL title. The best thing about young teams in any sport is that they are often full of confidence and resolve, even more so in the aftermath of experiences that have taken them to their lowest points. It is sometimes called naivete, such belief, and it may be so, but it is in this naivety that brilliance is sometimes born.
If Arsenal at least challenge to the wire will that inspire the belief in this squad for the years to come?
There is still everything to play for in the coming weeks, and it will be a stern test of the players that Wenger has believed in so far this season, as to whether they are capable of measuring up to the legends in Arsenal's past. If they cannot put in a solid challenge and instead roll over in the coming few games, they could well spell the end of Arsene Wenger himself at Arsenal.
However, if they can fight and show that they are able to believe when all else seems to have turned against them, even if they cannot overhaul United, they will show the world and themselves that perhaps they are the team of the future, and not just chokers who can play lovely football.
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