Despite a positive – and often impressive – start to the season which has had many a Gooner dreaming of a Premier League glory in May, recent back-to-back defeats have left Arsenal off the pace in their search for a first title since 2003/04.
The away defeat to a Manchester City side which had been misfiring in recent games was a significant disappointment, particularly after Theo Walcott had put Arsenal ahead after just five minutes. What’s more, with the result coming just days after a midweek trip to Goodison Park also ended in defeat to Everton, the Gunners’ title challenge has taken a serious hit.
With the defeats have come a few questions regarding the team. Is the contract talk related to Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil taking its toll on the application of the players? Could Arsenal be facing the annual blip which always seems to hamper their efforts to be serious title contenders? Has the loss of Mustafi in defence proved far costlier than first expected?
The two defeats have seen Arsenal not only slip to fourth in the league, but they now also lie a massive nine points behind the leaders Chelsea. All in all, it is fair to say Arsenal need something to get their season back on track – and it has to come quick.
Well, with that in mind, back-to-back home games at the Emirates may well be just what the doctor ordered. Next up for Arsenal is West Bromwich Albion at home on Boxing Day, with strugglers Crystal Palace heading to the stadium on New Year’s Day. Both games offer a chance to get vital points, although they are likely to pose quite different challenges.
While there were significant concerns in the summer regarding the transfer activity of West Brom and whether manager Tony Pulis was able to attract the targets he desired, the side are enjoying a successful season and are sat comfortably in mid-table.
A recent good run of results has only been impacted by narrow defeats to both Chelsea and Manchester United, with the 4-0 Monday night demolition of newly promoted Burnley in November being a particular highlight for the Baggies. However, in truth if Arsenal do indeed believe they are capable of winning the title, the West Brom game has to be one where the sole target has to be maximum points.
The same goes for the January 1st fixture with London neighbours Crystal Palace. There had been hopes that Palace had turned the corner after a poor run of results when they beat Southampton 3-0 at Selhurst Park at the start of December.
However, a draw with Hull and two further defeats against Manchester United and Chelsea have left the side just a single point above the relegation zone – which is not exactly what fans would have expected at the start of the season. With Palace fighting for their Premier League lives despite some significant investment, the team are likely to prove stubborn opponents when they visit the Emirates.
Bookmakers Betway have Arsenal as major favourites for both ties, but it will be vital for the North London team to allay the doubts of fans and show they do indeed mean business this season. The rush of games across the Christmas period can often be a make-or-break time in the title race, so Arsenal will undoubtedly be hoping for the former.