After their defeat at the weekend, Arsenal find themselves at a crossroads. A defeat to one of your title rivals is never helpful, but the 6-3 score line has heaped more pressure on the Gunners and given some momentum to their rivals. Manchester City look in formidable form at home at the moment, Chelsea continue to plod along and Liverpool have kept up with the chasing pack. The Christmas period is always important for any time trying to win the Premier League as the games come thick and fast. Four games in nine days is never easy, especially when the first of which is against Chelsea. If Arsenal lose against Chelsea, not only would they lose momentum going into the Christmas period, but they would no longer be top. It is therefore important that they bounce back.
More often than not, the team that is top at Christmas has the best chance of winning the Premier League. However the last time Arsenal were top at Christmas, they failed to do so. In recent seasons Arsenal have not been close to this position, therefore how they respond in the coming fixtures will show us what kind of team this current bunch are. Before Saturday, the Gunners were playing great football and leading the pack by five points. Some have claimed this was due to them facing many of the smaller teams early on, despite them beating Liverpool and rivals Tottenham. What the defeat against Man City did was pile pressure onto Arsenal, not only in terms of the points gap in the league, but in terms of their credibility in big games.
If Arsenal can get through the Chelsea game with a good result, they will be in a much better position going into what is seen as an easier game, albeit away, to West Ham on Boxing Day. They then face Newcastle away in the following fixture and end their run with Cardiff at home. If their early season form is something to go by, Arsenal will feel confident in all of those games. But a loss against Chelsea could change that and send them into a downward spiral. Beating the smaller teams has been an important feature of Arsenal’s game this season. Many of their rivals have struggled in these games, whereas Arsenal have flourished. If they do not beat Chelsea, the next three games become even more important as they will need to bounce back and pick up all the points they can over Christmas.
Arsene Wenger’s team selection over this period will be key. The return of Lukas Podolski will be very much welcomed by Arsenal fans. Podolski managed two goals in his final league game before injury, and many will hope he can pick up from where he left off. After coming back from a lengthy spell, it is unlikely he will be rushed back into the team. When he does return, he could find himself operating in a central striking role to take some of the pressure off of Olivier Giroud. Another important return is that of Theo Walcott. He gives the Gunners a different option that none of their other more technical players have in pace. Arsenal’s abundance of midfield options will allow for rotation in some of the games. The Gunners midfield depth could be the key to them getting through the Christmas period with some good results.
If Arsenal manage to get through the Christmas period with some favourable results, they then have a month without playing any of their rivals. Good results over Christmas could give them momentum to get through these games unscathed. After this period however, they face a February and March that will shape their season with Premier League games against Liverpool, Manchester United, Tottenham, Chelsea and Man City. This makes it imperative that they add to their lead, or at the very least consolidate their position at the top of the league in the coming fixtures in preparation for this tricky period. There is no doubt that the next few fixtures could shape Arsenal’s season going into the New Year and beyond.