02 March 2014

Prem Title: poor form not enough to knock us out...yet.

February was difficult for Arsenal, to put it mildly, as we staggered through seven matches (we'll include Stoke for now) with three wins, a draw, and three losses to show for our efforts. Contrast that against the consistent form of Chelsea, who have not lost in the Prem since their own trip to Britannia Stadium on 7 December. They may settle for draws here and there, but it's hard to argue against that run. Liverpool have been red-hot in the new year, scoring at an alarming rate and racking up wins as well. Their loss to us in the FA Cup is the only black-mark against them. Man City have been similarly hot and now have two games in hand and newly minted status as league cup champions. We might as well give six points for those rescheduled fixtures, both at home, with Sunderland and Aston Villa. Where does this leave Arsenal? It's hard to make much of a case that we are still in it, but in it we are. For as hot as our rivals have been, we're still only four points behind Chelsea. With ten matches left and thirty points available, there's still time to atone for recent profligacies.

This isn't myopic optimism. We've dropped points that we shouldn't have—but it's the first time since West Brom back in October that we've really been guilty of that. What I'm after here is that, despite our first truly bad stretch of form, one that's seen us lose twice and draw once (twice if we thrown in Southampton) in the last month, we're still right in the thick of things. All teams go hot and cold; it just so happens that our cold stretch coincides with our rivals' hot flashes. If we can rediscover our momentum, we can look for our opponents to drop points of their own here and there—something we could even force to happen because we do face Chelsea and City, while all three face each other in way or another along the way as well. It wouldn't be the first time that we've closed a gap.

Last season saw us lose to Tottenham, leaving us reeling and against the ropes. What happened, though? We finished the season on an unbeaten run.  Arsène reminded reporters of the same when he advised them  to "look at our results in the crucial points of the season and you will be surprised. Somebody says something that is not checked at all and everybody repeats it and it becomes an opinion even if the facts don't show it. Our end of season has always been very strong." Of course, last season's run-in was much more favorable to us with only a visit from Man U standing out as a high-profile challenge.  However, each of our rivals have tricky fixtures of their own to deal with, with dropped points a virtual guarantee for each club. If we can take all the points from the clubs below us, we'd reach 83 points, leaving six points on the table from our trip to Stamford Bridge and Man City's trip to the Emirates. Could we take four points? Six?

So much depends on the outcomes of these 42 remaining fixtures (10 each for us, Chelsea, and Liverpool, 12 for Man City) that it's almost impossible to figure out the different permutations. We'll take a closer look at that when the time is right. My point for now is that hope still breathes and not just as the result of some wishful thinking. This isn't me saying, merely, "hey, at least we're not mathematically eliminated." Mathematically speaking, Sunderland could still finish second in the Prem, and Southampton could still win it. Our chances are much stronger than that. There's evidence from the past that we can still contend for, and perhaps claim the Prem title. There's more spirit and skill in the squad this time around, and there are still plenty of points available. We're going to have to dig in and refuse to lose. We've done it before, and we can do it again.