It wasn’t that long ago that Arsenal seemed to be heading for a Europa league slot with the growing chorus of fans calling for a change of manager.
Well the ‘Wenger out’ brigade seemed to have been silenced by a run of form that has put Arsenal right back in the race for a Champions League slot. In fact even though the club are currently two points behind Chelsea and four behind Spurs (who have played a game more) I think that they are now favourites to even grab third place. Here’s why
1 Spurs injuries – and it isn’t just the headline Bale right ankle – Spurs are struggling with a lot of injuries. Also sidelined at the moment are Younès Kaboul (knee), Jermain Defoe (pelvis), and Sandro (knee) and Aaron Lennon and William Gallas are both having scans on injuries today.
Of course the big problem is Bale. It isn’t that Spurs are a one player team, but it is clear that Bale gives the whole side a huge dollop of self-belief – he has become their talisman. At the time of writing we don’t know how bad his injury is. At best Bale will be out for two games. The likelihood is that it will likely be more. If Bale doesn’t return for Spurs fans there is the nightmare prospect that they might have seen Bale in a Spurs shirt for the last time on Thursday.
2 Chelsea’s cup distractions – There is an irony in that what Chelsea fans see as a disappointing season, might end with an overflowing trophy cabinet. The Blues are a good bet to win both the FA Cup (if they can overcome Man City) and The Europa Cup too. The downside is that the cup run is forcing Benitez into shuffling his squad and as we saw in the game against Southampton it doesn’t always end well for the Blues. So Rafa – what is your priority? Up until now it has been the cups. I think it might stay that way too.
3 Arsenal’s run in – Of the three teams Arsenal have the least painful run in (though Spurs’ run in gets easier at the end). Home games against Norwich and Wigan coupled with trips to West Brom, Fulham and QPR are all winnable. Sure they face Man United, but by the time the Reds reach The Emirates the Premiership could have been won already. If that’s the case there’s a good shout that the Gunners might scrape a point or even a victory. Let’s not forget that Spurs face Man City while Chelsea play Liverpool and Man United away. Then there’s the small matter of them playing each other at Stamford Bridge.
4 Arsenal have most to lose by not qualifying for the Champions League – Of the three teams I think that Arsenal probably want Champions League football more than their London rivals, and this is one of the reasons why they have put together such a good run. If they qualify for the CL then Wenger will get his £70 million bounty which could means that Arsenal make a more sustained challenge for the title next season. Wenger is also eyeing up his future. His contract runs out at the end of next season. How ironic would it be that a manager who has consistently delivered CL football should end his managerial tenure fighting for the Europa League.
Ultimately not making the CL cut would be a disaster for the Gunners. As for Spurs it would mean another season of rebuilding possibly with the money from a Bale transfer, and Chelsea’s big bag of cash should mean that even if they play their European footy on a Thursday night and not a Tuesday or Wednesday that they will still be able to attract Europe’s elite players.
I should also mention that Arsenal are playing their best football of the season at the moment and that’s without their two key Englishmen Walcott and Wilshere, who are likely to give the side another boost when they return later ion in the campaign.
So Arsenal – third place really is yours to lose.