Premier League returns as the final interruption of the season has come and passed us by. There will be no more stoppages in the league campaign as we head towards the end of the season. For us, the task that lies ahead is simple. Win the remaining 9 matches and see whether that is sufficient for us to take over either Chelsea or Sp*rs or both, as all 3 teams fight it out for the remaining 2 Champions League spots available. Yes, Manchester City does not have a big lead but one doesn’t think they will suffer a massive drop of form that they have to start worrying about a top 4 spot.
Compared with the other two teams, our task does look relatively easier. The ties at WBA and at QPR looks to be the tricky away games, the latter included because any team fighting against relegation, tends to put up a stronger challenge. Everton and Manchester United’s visits to the Grove looks to be the tougher home games. Apart from the Everton and Fulham games, there should be ample time for the team to prepare and train before each game. Not picking up 3 points from those games because of the lack of preparation will not make for a viable excuse.
That is what is on paper. Which translates to an easy run-in. However, if recent seasons are to be taken into consideration (and it must), the team should not even attempt to think that we have an easier task. If we treat every game like we did against Bayern Munich or Swansea, then we are bound to find the right results. If we for example, look at Reading this Saturday as an easy game and put in less than 100% effort, then we only have ourselves to blame if we don’t secure maximum points out of it.
We have to take advantage of our schedule because that is currently in our favour. That much is obvious, if we take a look at what is remaining for the two challengers.
Sp*rs have potentially 13 games remaining, should they go all the way to the final of the Europa League. Their toughest games start straight away with this weekend’s visit to the Liberty Stadium. While capable, they are not certain to be able to achieve what we did, in our last match there. Still to play Manchester City at home with the away game at Wigan just after that. Given the way Roberto Martinez’s side becoming the most in form team in the league during this period of the season, that won’t be an easy game.
If AVB decides to balance his squad and rotate players, it will be to their own detriment. Reason being that they don’t have replacements as good as their starting eleven. At least not in their front 6, any way. The same could be thought of Chelsea, who are not the same team when the likes of Mata or Hazard are not on the pitch. Of the 3 teams, Chelsea are the one facing the toughest task of us all.
Chelsea have potentially 17 games remaining. That’s if they go all the way to the final of the FA Cup and Europa League. Even then, should they achieve that, I can’t even find a slot for them to play the semifinal of the FA Cup. Such is the tightness of the schedule that they have to overcome. Good chance that they will have just short of 48 hours of rest between one game to another, just to fit that semifinal game. Something which they will get to enjoy immediately as they will visit Old Trafford on April 1, after visiting St Mary’s on March 30.
With our game in hand, the turning point could well fall on the April 16. That is the day we play Everton, the match in hand that we have. This particular match also come on the back of the two challengers facing each other. Chelsea are playing Sp*rs on April 14 and the mathematics is irrefutable. One or both teams will drop points there. We need to capitalise on that and ensure that we put maximum pressure on the teams ahead of us.
The players know what is at stake and so does the manager. That our plan – footballistically or financially – depends so much on Champions League participation. The proud record of qualifying every single year that Wenger has been in charge of Arsenal, not withstanding, our footballing ambition needs to be maintained. Plenty of football to look forward to. Fingers crossed that it won’t go pear shaped.