13 February 2017

13 matches. 10 points. It's not too late for Arsenal to chase Chelsea down...

There's still time. Saturday's result over Hull, though there may have been a certain "hand of God" element to it, resurrected some small sliver of hope that we could still be in the title-chase. Fast forward to Sunday at Turf Moor, and Burnley—blessed, blessed Burnley—managed to earn a draw against Chelsea. While one one hand this does make our home-loss to Watford feel all the more wasteful, it still has to revive that sliver of hope. After all, Chelsea has had to be damn-near perfect to go ten points clear, and we've been very wobbly of late. They can't keep play to perfection every week—but it's up to us to put the pressure on them.

Let's be clear—the gap is a gaping chasm. Even if we win each of our remaining matches, we'd reach 89 points. That's a rather-large "if", considering that we still have to visit Anfield and White Hart Lane and host Man City and Man U. On top of that, we have Champions League fixtures to squeeze in, and, for as much as we might like to taunt Chelsea for not even qualifying for Champions League or Europa League play, that's two more high-intensity matches, if not more, to distract and fatigue us.

Still, it's not unprecedented. Think back to 1998. On the first day of March, we trailed Man U by 11 points, and they had ten matches to play. Who won the Prem in 1998? Arsenal. We won ten in a row, winning the Prem early enough to afford the chutzpah of losing our last two matches. As of this post, the 13th of February, we trail Chelsea by ten points, and there are 13 matches to play. Complicating the comparison is that, in 1998, we had three matches in hand over Man U. What's more, we went into Old Trafford and won on the ides of March. We don't have either of those factors playing in our favor now.

However, Chelsea can't keep playing to this level of perfection for long. We won't keep playing to this level of imperfection for long, either. Their result at Turf Moor is an opening, a small one to be sure, but one that we must exploit. If—and this is again a rather large "if"—we can reel off a series of wins, Chelsea might just start to feel a bit of pressure. Consider for a moment the "can't lose" element of our trip to Allianz Arena. If we lose, so be it. That's expected. Should we win or even draw, however, the message is clear: Arsenal mean business. Anfield and White Hart Lane are nothing compared to Allianz Arena.

One of the greatest risks, paradoxically, is our own form. Prior to losing to Watford, we had won three matches by scoring 11 goals and conceding just one. If we can find a balance between blitzing certain opponents and, well, losing to others, we can start to put the kind of pressure on Chelsea that they haven't felt all season.

Conte has shown himself to be more than up to the task of reviving a dispirited squad, but he did so under the low expectations engendered of a sluggish start. It remains to be seen how well he and his fragile squad of bogadils will respond to the pressures of being the presumptive favorites.

It ain't over yet.