Arsenal: A Game-By-Game Guide To How the Club Can Still Win the EPL
Yeah, you read that right.
While much has been made lately of the Gunners ebbing EPL title credentials, many seem to be overlooking an important fact: Arsenal is still very much alive in the hunt for the crown.
In fact, it's not as much of a longshot as you may think. While, granted, there has been little that indicates a run of form such as would be required to overtake Manchester United could be in the offing, that doesn't mean things it couldn't happen.
Sure, Sir Alex's men are in the driver's seat; if things remain status quo, Rooney and company will be hoisting the hardware at the end of the year. But as I am fond of saying, that's why they play the games.
Nothing is written in stone at present.
If the things line up the right way, if the moon is in the seventh house and all of that, it is entirely within the realm of possibility that the silverware deficiency at the Emirates may well end this May.
However, this is all predicated upon Manchester United leaving some points on the table, and Arsenal taking care of business when the two sides meet in North London on May 1, for what well may be the definitive Premier League fixture this season.
One way or the other, come the first of the month, Wenger and company will either be celebrating May Day with renewed hope in the title race, or yelling mayday as their ship sinks into the frigid waters of failure.
In any case, here is a week-by-week road map of what needs to happen in order for the Gunners to pull of what would surely be one of the most famous league titles in the club's illustrious history.
It should be noted that I'm not stating this will happen, or that it's particularly likely, merely that it could happen. Without the intervention of any deities, alchemy or voodoo.
So here it is: Arsenal's blueprint to brilliance.
Weekend of April 9/10
There will no margin for error if the Gunners are to make the May Day showdown with United at the Emirates count for something. They must leave no points on the table whenever possible, and they must start at Bloomfield Road.
With Theo Walcott and Alex Song both still question marks in terms of fitness, this could be tricky. The Seasiders have played surprisingly well this season, and are certainly capable of stunning Wenger's side. However, I doubt it.
No doubt the simple maths I employed to deduce the Gunners continued title viability will have occurred to them also. I anticipate a hard-fought but comfortable victory.
Manchester takes on Fulham, winners of three of their last five matches. Unless Mohamed Fayed's dreadful Jacko statue inspires Clint Dempsey and company to rarified heights in a hurry, United should prevail as well.
Week Record: Arsenal, win; Manchester United, win.
Points: Arsenal 62; Manchester United 69.
April 16 Through April 19
This is a crucial weekend for Arsenal for several reasons. Not the least of which is the fact that United will be playing three times in seven days over three competitions.
That being said, Wenger's men will face a stiff challenge from Liverpool on April 17. While it will no doubt be a difficult match, Arsenal face the Reds at the Emirates, and as such, hold a distinct advantage over the Merseysiders. Liverpool has lost 10 times away from Anfield this season.
Only Wolves (12), Stoke (11) and Blackburn (11) have fared worse away from home. Liverpool will be battling for a Europa League spot, so certainly won't lack for focus, but their form has been anything but consistent this year.
The Reds have certainly played better since Kenny Dalglish took over for Roy Hodgson earlier in the campaign, but their chances of staying in with a shout at European qualification was dealt a bitter blow on April 7, when it was revealed by Dalglish that captain Steven Gerrard would miss the remainder of the season after suffering another groin injury, fast on the heels of having surgery for a similar ailment in March.
Gerrard's injury further compounds what was already a serious issue for the Reds boss, as Danish defender Daniel Agger is also done for the year, after suffering a knee-tendon injury in the 2-1 April 2 loss to West Bromwich Albion at The Hawthorns. Right backs Glen Johnson and Martin Kelly are also down for the time being for Liverpool.
Arsenal should be able to swing this win, but I have no doubts that King Kenny's men will be ready to play when they show up at the Emirates. The Gunners must take this fixture to remain with a reasonable shot at the Premier League title.
Meanwhile, Manchester United have a tough week to navigate. Facing Chelsea in the second leg of their Champions League tie, with a scant 1-0 lead on aggregate, and then fierce rivals Manchester City in the FA Cup Semifinals, Sir Alex and United will be expending considerable energy between April 12 and April 19.
With a little bit of luck, this will translate into a poor showing or two from United down the stretch.
United faces Newcastle on April 19 at St. James's Park, and while I have The Toon going down to Manchester United, I could easily envision a draw in this one, and Manchester topping Everton the next week instead of the draw I have there.
It makes no difference, provided that Manchester United fails to win at least one of the two games.
Week Record: Arsenal, win; Manchester United, win (or draw).
Points: Arsenal 65; Manchester United 72 (or 70).
April 20 Through April 24
This week is where I have penciled in a little luck for the Gunners. With United facing Everton at Old Trafford, for the sake of this hypothetical blueprint, I have the Toffees becoming just the second team to not lose to United at their home stadium this year.
Honestly, I am putting a lot of stock in United's fatigue coming off their brutal previous week of fixtures. While perhaps unlikely, Everton could snatch a point from this one, and if they do, Arsenal will be in a very good position if they handle matters on their end.
That won't be easy. This week the Gunners take on Bolton away and then play at Spurs in the North London Derby.
While Tottenham haven't been playing all that well recently, even without considering the humbling they took at the hands of Real Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League tie, a 4-0 stomping in Madrid, Spurs have shown that they can play extremely well at times this year, and you can bet Harry Redknapp will have them in top form for this one.
The two sides have split a pair of matches this year, with the Gunners handing them a 4-1 thrashing on Sept. 21 in the third round of the Carling Cup and Spurs returning the favor with a late 3-2 victory at the Emirates on Nov. 20.
As far as Bolton is concerned, I consider that simply a matter of taking care of the games the Gunners should. If Arsenal can't find a way to get a road win against Bolton at this stage of the season, then they don't deserve to come within a sniff of the league title.
Arsenal have played well away from the Emirates this year and that will have to continue against Tottenham and Bolton, as a loss would put the title squarely out of reach.
Week Record: Arsenal, 2 wins; Manchester United, draw (or win).
Points: Arsenal 71; Manchester United 73 (73).
May Day 2011: The Day the Earth Stood Still
If my scenario were to play out, May 1 would be the date of the season's decisive match.
With Manchester United and Arsenal set to do battle at the Emirates with the Gunners trailing by two points, if all goes according to plan, the winner of this tilt would have a clear advantage in the title race going forward.
The last time Arsene Wenger beat Sir Alex Ferguson was during the 2008/09 season at home, and Arsenal have lost the last two meetings at the Emirates.
United has also bested the Gunners twice this year, a 1-0 win at Old Trafford and the recent 2-0 victory in the FA Cup Quarterfinals. In fact, Arsenal has won just four of its matches against United sine 2004/05. Do you know what that means?
That's history. If this all goes the way I am suggesting it might, Wenger and the Gunners will have their chance to erase a lot of bad memories in one fell swoop with a famous win against Manchester United.
A win that would see them reclaim the driver's seat in the Premier League title race. However, that will be anything but easy, and a draw will do them little good, as at present, they trail United by six in terms of goal differential, and if they ended even at the Emirates and everything else I lay out comes to pass, they would end up level with United at 81 points, and I see little to indicate that Arsenal is poised to overtake United in that category.
No, the Gunners must win this one.
Week Record: Arsenal, win; Manchester United, loss.
Points: Arsenal 74; Manchester United 73.
Weekend of May 7/8
With Arsenal holding a one point lead in the standings with three to play, all the Gunners would need to do is win out to wrap up the title.
With Stoke City probably having little other than pride to play for at this stage of the year, the mid-table Potters should go down to Arsenal, especially if they find themselves somewhat healthy.
That, however, is certainly no guarantee. In any case, I think if the Gunners find themselves in the position I am suggesting they will come May 8, they will take the the three points from this one.
United versus Chelsea is a different matter. That match could go either way. Chelsea, while probably out of the title race, will still be jockeying for table position, so won't roll over for Man. U., but can they win at Old Trafford?
Nobody else has this year, and I doubt Ancelotti's men will manage it either. That being said, I think they can get a draw. Even if they don't, it wouldn't cripple Arsenal, it would just mean that they would have to be perfect in their final two, while a draw would give them a bit of breathing room.
Week Record: Arsenal, win; Manchester United, draw (or win).
Points: Arsenal 77; Manchester United 74 (or 76).
Weekend of May 14/15
With Arsenal taking on Aston Villa at the Emirates and United at Blackburn, if Chelsea earned the draw I predicted in the last slide, the Gunners will need to do one thing and one thing only against Villa: Not lose. United will beat Blackburn at Ewood Park, betting on anything else would be foolish.
Manchester will face Rovers on May 14, while the Gunners get the Villans on May 15, and while Wenger's men may very well take all the points from their match, although, I have penciled in a draw, primarily so I don't have to predict Arsenal winning all eight of its remaining matches, something I view as unlikely to occur.
If United does beat Chelsea the previous week, then Arsenal will have to win.
For the sake of argument, we will say that what I have predicted has come to pass: Arsenal draws with Villa and United beats Blackburn. Now, it will all be down to the last match of the season.
Week Record: Arsenal, draw (or win); Manchester United, win.
Points: Arsenal 78 (or 80); Manchester United 77.
Weekend of May 21/22
So here we are. It all comes down to this, one match. Arsenal will face Fulham in the shadow of Wacko Jacko's likeness at Craven Cottage, while Blackpool heads into Old Trafford, possibly facing relegation with a loss.
That being said, Ian Holloway had better get his ducks in a row on that score, as the Seasiders beating United at home is beyond even the limits of my imagination to perceive.
I guess it could happen, but I could also be elected President of the United States in 2012. The odds are probably a little better for Blackpool, although still infinitely daunting.
For Arsenal, all they need to do is beat Fulham and they win the Premier League. They did so at the Emirates on Dec. 4, and I think if they find themselves in the position I am suggesting come the final fixture of the season, will have little trouble doing so on the road.
It's not like they have to travel very far, and the Craven Cottage stands will undoubtedly have their fair share of Gooners. That will make it all the more special when Wenger and company celebrate a remarkable reversal of fortune and a hard-earned league title on May 22.
Week Record: Arsenal, win; Manchester United, win.
Points: Arsenal 81; Manchester United 80.
Final Records: Arsenal 24-9-5; Manchester United 23-11-4.
Arsenal Wins the Premier League Crown!
It would be quite an achievement if everything I have outlined comes to pass, and the Gunners ended their trophy drought with a come-from-behind Premier League Championship over Manchester United.
While far from impossible, it's not exactly probable either. To be sure, it would require the squad to remain relatively healthy and play consistently better than they have been lately. Is that impossible? No, no it isn't.
I am not suggesting this is a likely course of events, but this is a way that Wenger can still break the dry spell at the Emirates without any kidnappings or the use of the dark arts.
This scenario relies on Manchester United not playing their absolute best down the stretch as much as it does Arsenal reaching full potential for a spell. It is purely hypothetical, but infinitely possible.
What a win it would be, though. A lot of crow would be served among the detractors of Arsenal's French manager, and he would suddenly find himself with many more friends than he has at present.
It would go a long way towards convincing some of Arsenal's young stars to re-sign with the club in the near future. Winning covers up a lot of imperfections, and much is forgiven in the throes of celebratory ecstasy.
So there it is, straight from the kitchen. Today's special: Pie in the sky.