Most Gunner fans have gotten used to seeing their team's challenge crumbling and melting away as the season nears its closing stages, but this year the feeling of scepticism and fear of loss stayed throughout the summer. And with crucial games against Liverpool and Udinese coming up in the next 5 days, if things don't go their way, any hopes from the season might melt away a lot earlier.
For one, there is a tough test of playing a resurgent Liverpool at the Emirates, where they have, at-best, struggled since the late part of last season. With over £100 million spent to refurbish what was an average squad, Kenny Dalglish's side look like a big threat to break into not just the top four but maybe top two, at least on paper.
The Reds, in their own manager's words, are hoping for their first away win against the Gunners in more than a decade. And why not, with the Gunners squad in such dire straits with injuries, suspensions and the much-talked-about long drawn transfer sagas? Arsene Wenger is struggling to field 11 fit players on the pitch with some previous Premier League experience.
If there was ever a chance for the Merseysiders to pounce on their prospective top 4 rivals, this is one of the best they could have asked for. Anything less than three points would dampen the confidence in their ability to challenge for the top-four spot, and it doesn't matter much that it's only their second game of the season.
Secondly, there is the matter of visiting Udinese in Italy on Wednesday, which is nothing less than a £25 million jackpot that Arsenal have become so used to winning in each of the last 14 years that there will be shock waves in North London if they don't make it.
The result in Italy might also decide whether Arsene Wenger makes any big signings or not. After all, the game for him seems about pure economics in the transfer market. If you can't win £25 million in a given year, why spend it in the first place?
If the Gunners do lose and their manager subsequently decides not to spend the money to add some quality in the midfield and defence, it will be a long drawn season of disappointments. It's always tough to play catchup after a bad start, unless you are Manchester United, Chelsea or, now, Man City who have limitless money and the will to spend.
Against all the odds, if the teenage youngsters on which Arsene Wenger is banking so much of his reputation—Carl Jenkinson, Alex Chamberlain, Emmanuel Frimpong and Ryo Miyaichi—do come through and give some stellar performances, they won't just save Arsene's rapidly sinking reputation, but can also give a new direction to a club in turmoil.
The article first appeared on www.isport.in
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