Some fixtures can possibly bother the best of the clubs. Some fixtures can put an end to any flourishing campaign. Ask Arsene Wenger, and probably we will have plenty of reasons to wonder about such a scenario, and its aftermath.
On February 08, Wenger received a mauling of a lifetime, in Arsenal`s 5-1 defeat to Liverpool. The Anfield humiliation was one of the worst performances by any London side, let alone Wenger`s Gunners. Arsenal were 4-0 down in the first 20 minutes, thanks to superb set-play from the hosts, and of course, some pathetic man-marking from the visitors.
Like any other club, Gunners too have had their share of highs and lows. But this time, the timing of such a defeat is crucial, considering how the London club has started to live-up – fighting for titles. Then this loss, at a crucial juncture, could well prove detrimental to many, many more things, seen or unseen.
That`s the worrying part for the Arsenal fans.
February may not be the cruelest month, but it could well breed discontent in the Ashburton Grove ranks. Following that defeat to Liverpool, Arsenal will be playing four home games of utmost importance. If the Anfield debacle forced them to surrender their league lead to an irresistible Chelsea outfit, further slip-ups in any of these four up-coming matches could well prove the end in many more ways than just the league title.
1) February 12: Manchester United (Premier League – Home)
First, Arsenal will host an embattled but surely improving Manchester United on February 12. Since Juan Mata`s signing, David Moyes` squad has seen a considerable boost in their creative force – the lacuna in the defending champions` scheme of things or line-up, and thus the present condition of rot.
Combine that snippy, little runs from the Spaniard with the scoring process of Wayne Rooney and the former Arsenal ward – Robin van Persie, they can be anybody`s match. For that matter of fact, this Rooney-RVP partnership, which gifted Sir Alex Ferguson a parting gift in the form league title last term, looked well oiled in their 2-2 draw with Fulham.
If Arsenal are to keep any realistic chance of winning the league title, they will need to win this match. It`s like a new beginning to their campaign. A draw will not even serve the purpose, because only two points separate the top three teams.
In contrast to their tough fixture, other two teams – leaders Chelsea and third-placed Manchester City, will be having relatively easier outings against West Brom Albions and Sunderland respectively. And in addition to that, fourth-placed Liverpool, only four points behind the leaders, will play relegation fighting Fulham, a sure three points in the bag.
2) February 16: Liverpool ( FA Cup – Home)
Next up is the repeat of the February 8 clash, against Liverpool, in their FA Cup fifth round match. Brendon Rodgers` team will arrive in London confident and fully aware that another win here will effectively demoralise Arsene Wenger and his wards. Two defeats in two meetings, it will be a hard proposition to digest for any sensible football manager.
FA Cup, if won, is one of those competitions, which rejuvenates teams and saves managers. After all, the title comes with a trophy filled with unbridled pride and history of a nation which has the oldest association in the world. Having exited from the League Cup last October, in the hands of Chelsea at home, another domestic cup exit will not help the club`s overall health.
The other two remaining competitions – domestic league and UEFA Champions League, will be competed in another level, requiring every mite of their arsenal. If Wenger has to play safe and wishes to end their trophy drought, FA Cup is the perfect opportunity. With a squad always fighting with injuries and multiple lay-offs, it will be impossible to fight in multiple fronts. So, it`s better to invest the energy and purpose wisely and at least win a trophy, just to break that drought.
3. February 19: Bayern Munich ( Champions League – Home)
Then the much eagerly awaited arrival of the continental champions - Bayern Munich at the Emirates. Despite being a regular Champions League team for the last 15 seasons, Arsenal under Wenger have always faltered in the deciding moments, including that one-off final defeat to Barcelona in 2006.
When Arsenal meet the German champions in London for their Round of 16 first-leg tie, it will be a clash between David and Goliath. So, many have already drawn the conclusion: Bavarians returning with all three points and a bigger goal difference to boot, even if the Londoners manage to score a goal or two.
So, what Arsene Wenger and his wards do in the night of February 19 could well define their season. A win at home and a draw away at Allianz Arena on March 11 will surely herald a new era at the Emirates.
4. February 22: Sunderland (Premier League – Home)
Arsenal`s final fixture of February will not be a high-profile one. But their home game against Sunderland will determine if they have the depth in their squad to win trophies. After three encounters involving heavyweights Manchester United, Liverpool and Bayern Munich, the match against the Black Cats will probably witness key players missing – either due to fatigue or in the worst case scenario, to injury.
If Gunners drop points again, against the relegation fighting Sunderland at home, then it will effectively put a full stop to their campaign. Because, it`s implausible to think that both Chelsea and Manchester City will drop points as frequently as any Arsenal fan would want them to, at least in their current forms.