Saturday, March 2, 2024

Now we’re getting somewhere

So, Liverpool’s defeat last night means they’ve made life very difficult for themselves, and after a season in which it was very tight in and around the top four, it looks as if there’s a gap beginning to grow.

With all teams having played 26 games we’re 2 points clear of Everton who are in 6th, 7 clear of Swansea and West Brom, and 8 ahead of the Mugsmashers. With all due respect to Swansea and West Brom, I don’t expect them to challenge for the top four. Everton are still in there but looked pretty limp against United, so it does look as if it’ll come down to that top 5.

I know many have worked out how many points we might need, based on what’s been enough for 4th in seasons past, but the reality is we have to keep pace with Sp*rs and Chelsea and look for them to drop points along the way.

If you look at Sp*rs run in, their final four games of the season are, on paper, extremely winnable, but before that they have to play us, Liverpool, Man City, Chelsea and Everton. Our biggest games are the trip to their place, and home games against Everton and United. Which means we’ve got a chance to really rack up some points provided we can find the consistency that has eluded us thus far this season.

We’re on a little run at the moment, winning 3 of our last 4 league games, but that needs to continue. A couple of times in the last campaign we won 7 in a row, the run in February through to the end of March was particularly important. Not only did we win a lot of points, it put the pressure on those around us and one team in particular couldn’t stand the heat and twitched their way right out of the kitchen. They may be a different animal with a new boss, but it’s down to us to test them properly.

Before we play another league game though, we have to concentrate on the FA Cup tie this weekend against Blackburn. I’ve read people asking if you’d accept winning the cup or finishing in the top four, but for me it’s not a choice or one or the other. The two things are not mutually exclusive, we can do both. I think a top four finish is, obviously, a huge thing for the football club, but that should not come at the expense of actual silverware.

The fact that we’re playing Blackburn on Saturday might allow the manager to rest a few players ahead of the game against Bayern the following Tuesday, but not in the way he sent out teams in previous seasons in this competition. There was that horrendous game at Old Trafford, for example, when he clearly paid lip-service to the chance of winning the cup, but given where we are now and how things stand, he doesn’t have that luxury.

Mikel Arteta sums up the next couple of weeks perfectly:

This next month is the month, it’s crucial. Everything can look brighter at the end of it or really, really bad.

There is little in the way of wiggle room, a couple of bad results would make a huge dent in our chances of qualifying for next season’s Champions League. All the same, a few consecutive wins and we’re building some very decent momentum. It’s all down to the players are how much they want it now. At Sunderland we saw evidence that this is a team that really can dig in and fight and we’re going to need to see the game kind of effort in every game between now and the end of the season. It’s all to play for, at least.

Elsewhere, the loan move of Andre Santos to Gremio has been confirmed. I know it’s impossible to second guess Arsene Wenger, just last week he was insisting that the Brazilian was still ‘important’, but with reports of injury to Thomas Vermaelen being more serious that first thought, surely the fact he’s let his only established left-back for Bayern leave means the captain is going to be ok for that game.

As promising as he is, Ignasi Miquel is first and foremost a centre-half, and secondly, rather too raw to be throwing in against the kind of players the Germans will throw at us next week. So, my assumption is that Vermaelen should be fine, even if he doesn’t play the FA Cup game I suspect he’ll be back for the Champions League. Otherwise, he’ll have to get ‘creative’ again with his back four.

I suppose it’s worth bearing in mind we reached the final in 2006 with a defensive midfielder playing at left back, but I’m not sure that’s the kind of lightning that strikes twice. Anyway, we shall see what happens and good luck to the meat-loving, Instagram addict.

Finally for today, a reminder that Arseblog, in the shape of Andrew Allen, will be meeting with the aforementioned Mikel Arteta to deliver him his brand new Puma King boots, and to ask him the questions you lot submitted. The best question of the day will also win a pair of said boots, signed by the lego-haired hunk himself, so keep an eye out for that and the exclusive video interview we’ll have here in the next couple of days.

Thanks again to Puma Football (TwitterFacebook), and hopefully Andrew will get a chance to ask one or two non-haircare related questions.

Till tomorrow.

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