What should Arsenal prioritise?

Arsenal have been juggling three different competitions over the past month, and made it difficult for themselves by requiring a replay to get past Hull in the FA Cup. Is it time to prioritise which competitions full attention should be given to?

At the present moment, Arsenal’s best chance of silverware this season is undoubtedly the FA Cup. With a home win versus Watford, Arsenal will return to Wembley for the semi-final for the third consecutive year.

As such, it would make sense to prioritise the Watford game this weekend, over the Champions League tie with Barcelona just three days later, where the Gunners need to overturn a 2-0 deficit, winning by 2 to stand a chance of going through.

Clearly such a fate is hugely unlikely, but will Arsenal fans be happy with resting players during the Barcelona game, similar to Tottenham’s tactics against Dortmund (although they weren’t even 2-0 down at that point).

Clearly the trophy all Arsenal fans want to win is the Premier League, a trophy that has eluded us for 12 years and we are all well aware this is our best chance to win it. But so are Tottenham are Leicester. (See remaining fixtures for all four sides here).

Realistically we must focus on beating Watford at home at all costs, and pursue the historic achievement of three consecutive FA Cup wins. When, perhaps rather than if, we are eliminated from the Champions League, we will only have one game left outside of Premier League games to deal with before the season ends (FA Cup final would be at least a week after final PL game).

We will have a clear run at the Premier League, and be able to chase down as many points as possible in our final 9 games. There’s still a long way to go, and Leicester and Spurs have also shown signs of dropping points. No doubt we all will do again, it just depends how many.

Dropping out of the Champions League this early will surely benefit our league campaign, whereas I expect City to continue to struggle for league form by progressing to the quarter-finals.

The question is, should Arsenal field the strongest possible side against Barcelona and go for it? Inducing fatigue, risking further injuries to key players, and so on. Or should a more rational and long-term approach be taken.

 

Arsenal must beat Tottenham

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With the title race hanging in the balance and Tottenham sitting just three points above Arsenal, the Gunners have no option but to win the North London Derby this weekend. 

Both teams come into the game off the back of disappointing midweek results which saw Arsenal lose their third consecutive game. A 2-1 loss at home to Swansea, who are fighting relegation, has really caused a stir of frustration amongst the fans who know this is the best chance they have had to win the league in the past 12 years.

A lot always rests on the fiercest derby in English football where pride and bragging rights are always on the line, but this is perhaps the most significant of them all so far in the Premier League era.

Tottenham are undoubtedly in better form, and looking as good as they probably ever have. Yet a derby is the one game where the form book can be thrown out of the window.

It comes down to desire and passion, and hopefully the Arsenal players can use the high intensity atmosphere and amazing away support to immerse themselves in the importance of the occasion, and show that they are serious about playing for this team AND about winning. Although these should go hand-in-hand, without saying.

Arsenal have lost just once to Spurs in the last 7 meetings. That was a 2-1 defeat at White Hart Lane in the corresponding fixture last year. However Arsenal did manage to win there 2-1 themselves earlier this season in the Capital One Cup against a fairly strong Tottenham team, with two stunners from Flamini no less.

A win will take the Gunners back to level on points with Tottenham (54), and hopefully propel the team into finishing above them for the 21st consecutive season. Regardless of who wins the league.

As Ian Wright says, “If we can rule North London, we can rule the country.”

The Run In – Top Four

The following table shows the remaining fixtures of the current top four in the Premier League. Man City are currently scheduled to play the most games, while Leicester are out of every cup competition and only have the league to focus on.

Leicester City v Arsenal - Premier League

Date Arsenal Leicester Tottenham Man City
14 Feb Leicester (H) Arsenal (A) Man City (A) Tottenham (H)
18 Feb N/A N/A Fiorentina (A) N/A
20/21 Feb Hull (H) N/A Crystal Palace (A) Chelsea (A)
23/24/25 Feb Barcelona (H) N/A Fiorentina (H) Dynamo Kiev (A)
27/28 Feb Man United (A) Norwich (H) Swansea (H) Liverpool (N)
1/2 Mar Swansea (H) West Brom (H) West Ham (A) Liverpool (A)
5 Mar Tottenham (A) Watford (A) Arsenal (H) Aston Villa (H)
12/14 Mar West Brom (H) Newcastle (H) Aston Villa (A) Norwich (A)
15/16 Mar Barcelona (A) N/A N/A Dynamo Kiev (H)
19/20 Mar Everton (A) Crystal Palace (A) Bournemouth (H) Man United (H)
2 Apr Watford (H) Southampton (H) Liverpool (A) Bournemouth (A)
9 Apr West Ham (A) Sunderland (A) Man United (H) West Brom (H)
16 Apr Crystal Palace (H) West Ham (H) Stoke (A) Chelsea (A)
23 Apr Sunderland (A) Swansea (H) West Brom (H) Stoke City (H)
30 Apr Norwich (H) Man United (A) Chelsea (A) Southampton (A)
7 May Man City (A) Everton (H) Southampton (H) Arsenal (H)
15 May Aston Villa (H) Chelsea (A) Newcastle (A) Swansea (A)

Arsenal, Tottenham and Man City are still in the FA Cup and should they qualify for the later rounds, these will be played on the following dates:

  • Quarter Final – 12/13 Mar
  • Semi Final – 23/24 Apr
  • Final – 21 May

Arsenal and Man City remain in the Champions League, and qualification to the next round will result in fixtures on these dates:

  • Quarter Final -1st Leg – 5/6 Apr, 2nd Leg – 12/13 Apr
  • Semi Final – 1st Leg – 26/27 Apr, 2nd Leg 3/4 May
  • Final – 28 May

Similarly Tottenham in the Europa League:

  • Round of 16 – 1st Leg – 10 Mar, 2nd Leg – 17 Mar
  • Quarter Final – 1st Leg – 7 Apr, 2nd Leg – 14 Apr
  • Semi Final – 1st Leg – 28 Apr, 2nd Leg -5 May
  • Final – 18 May

Fixture clashes will result in Premier League ties being moved to an available date later in the season; most likely on a weekday between games where possible.

Why Santi is Arsenal’s Main Man

Arsenal lost more ground in the title race on Tuesday night, falling to fourth place while all rivals picked up comfortable wins. 

Largely to blame for Arsenal’s third game without a goal in the Premier League is the shambolic performances of the Arsenal midfield.

Since picking up an injury last year away to Norwich, Santi Cazorla has been severely missed in the centre of the midfield. Replaced by Aaron Ramsey, who has been playing alongside Flamini, has resulted in chaotic defending, and indecisive attacking.

Arsenal lead the league at Christmas, and picked up a reasonable 27 points from the 14 games prior to Santi’s injury. In the 10 games so far without, only 18 points have been won.

However it is the form of the team that is the most worrying issue with a lot of those points having been picked up throughout December against relegation battling sides (bar Man City). Arsenal’s run is now 4 games without a win, and 3 games without a goal. Excluding the Burnley FA Cup win.

Cazorla is a magician on the ball. The ball seems to stick to his foot as he wriggles out of every incoming tackle, and more often than not continues by finding a teammate with an incisive ball up the field.

And there you have the difference. Perhaps it goes unnoticed, and often without praise, but Santi picks the ball up deep off the defenders, and moves it on quickly to the ‘flare’ players enabling our quick flowing, counter-attacking football, sometimes chipping in with his own direct assists and goals.

But more often than not, he assists the assists. He has the mind to find Ozil quickly, who in turn can find Walcott, Sanchez, Giroud, and the back of net before the opposition can get back and stop it.

With Ramsey playing in that role, especially against Southampton, we struggled to pick the ball up and move it forward quickly. Too often Sanchez or Ozil would come deep to get that ball, and then they are out of position and the momentum has gone.

Although we still created chances against Southampton, they were not as clear cut as we usually create. And a majority of them came down to crosses, because we simply allowed Southampton’s defenders to get back behind the ball and sit deep.

Flamini is not the best defensive midfielder in the world, but he gives his all to the team, and deserves respect for what he has given the club over the years. I don’t put him at fault for the lack of what I believe Aaron should have provided going forward. However it is clear that Coquelin has the passion for that role and this team, as well as the ability to match.

We must hope and wait for a fully fit Cazorla to return to the fold as soon as possible, he should only be a few weeks away as long as he is on still on schedule.

 

Henry – This was always going to be where I started.


It is now widely known that Thierry Henry has begun his training to become a coach and possibly manager in the future. Having taken up a punditry role with Sky Sports following his retirement from the playing side of the game, he said he intended to take this time to learn more about the game, as he appears on Sky and undertakes his coaching badges.

Speaking to the Arsenal Magazine, Thierry said: “[Arsène Wenger and I] sit sometimes, obviously he has a lot on his plate. We speak about training youngsters and how it’s different to training senior players. We talk about being a manager, we talk about players from the academy. I will ask him questions on how to deal with certain situations.”

“I’m obtaining my badges right now with the Welsh FA and looking to gain the A-licence. It goes without saying that I asked Arsenal if I could do that with them and be involved with the team.”

It had first been reported a few months ago that Henry had been helping to train some of the youth teams at Arsenal, and what a privilege for those players to have worked with the legend himself. You can just imagine the instant respect he would command and the hanging on to every word of advice he uttered.

“I asked the boss and he said to come, train with the under-18s and 19s and help conduct sessions. I’m just an assistant at the minute, I’m not a coach but it’s great, as you can imagine.

“It’s the place I love, there’s so much emotion for me here so this was always going to be where I wanted to start my coaching.

Asked on his thoughts of his own philosophical ideas, Thierry responded that he had his own view but it was the sticking with it when the going gets tough that was the real test.

“I have a certain view of how I would like teams to play but it’s one thing to have a view and another to try and execute it. For example are you still going to maintain that philosophy if you’ve lost two or three games, while fans are upset, the press is having a go and players are storming into your office?

“It’s all stuff I’m learning. How to stay strong, how to remain in the same direction despite enduring problems.”