After a summer that looked like it would bring no big signings and a disastrous first game of the season, Arsenal currently sit atop of the Premier League. The signing of Mesut Ozil, the form of Aaron Ramsey and the goal scoring exploits of Olivier Giroud have helped Arsenal to make most people forget the nightmare on the first day at the Emirates. Strong away wins at Fulham and Sunderland as well as a derby win at home to Spurs and last weekend’s home victory against Stoke, have shown that Arsenal may have what it takes to challenge for the title this season. Throughout their first five Premier League games, Arsenal have had somewhat of an injury crisis. Arsenal currently have seven first team players out through injury. Luckily, Thomas Vermalen and Mikel Arteta made their returns in the League Cup, but how will Arsenal’s squad cope with the coming games?
Arsenal’s next six games are important for a number of reasons. There is a mixture of matches that can be seen as must win games as well as fixtures that will give an assessment of where Arsenal are at as a team at the moment. These games would be difficult with Arsene Wenger’s strongest squad, so how they cope with their depleted squad will make for interesting viewing. The first of these games is this weekend against Swansea. Michael Laudrup’s men have shown that they are capable of giving the big teams a firm test. Arsenal ran out 2-0 winners on their strong run at the end of last season that culminated in Champions League qualification. But with Walcott, Cazorla, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Podolski out, Arsenal do not have any senior wide man available. For this game especially, it is important that whichever youngster is thrust into the side is one that is ready for the tactical affair that this game will be.
After this Arsenal face three fixtures that any title hopeful will feel they should be winning. Firstly they face West Brom away, who a young Gunners team have already beaten this season in the League Cup. They then play Norwich at home and then have an away trip to Crystal Palace. The three games should be seen as straight forward wins for Arsenal. But by this point, only one of their seven absentees is due to be back. Midfielder Tomas Rosicky will be able to come back after the Swansea game and help in the wide positions, but he rarely plays 90 minutes which means it will still be a problem area for Arsenal’s squad.
If Arsenal can get through these three games, they will be in a very strong position in the league. Many feel it is the results against the smaller teams that can cost a team the title and for the most part that is correct. Where Arsenal have struggled in recent seasons is gaining wins against the other big teams in the league. Next for the Gunners is a home game against a Liverpool side that will have a fully reintegrated Luis Suarez. The Gunners have not beaten Liverpool at home in the last two seasons, drawing last season and losing the season before. Their chances of a win in this game should be improved by the returns of Cazorla, Walcott and Podolski, which means barring any new injuries, Arsenal’s squad depth will be greatly improved. If Liverpool continue the good form they have showed this season, it will be a tough test so an Arsenal win will really lay down a marker.
The last game of this run is away to Manchester United at Old Trafford. Arsenal have not won at Old Trafford since Emmanuel Adebayor scored in a 1-0 win in September 2006. The last time they took any points away from Old Trafford was in a dead rubber end of the season clash in May 2009. With Sir Alex Ferugson gone and Moyes struggling to find his feet at United, this could be the perfect time for Arsenal to finally do some damage at Old Trafford with what could be nearing a fully fit squad. This game however is not for another month and a half and much could change between now and then including injury setbacks or even more injuries for the Gunners.
What won’t change is that in order to challenge for the title, Arsenal need to achieve some good results in this next run of games.