With 13 Premier League matches remaining, Arsenal find themselves in sixth place, trailing Everton and local rival Tottenham Hotspur, and in danger of missing out on a possible spot in next season’s Champions League.
While some Arsenal supporters have called for major changes and continue to lament the transfer of Robin van Persie, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic that the Gunners are poised for a very strong finish to the season.
The loss of Van Persie and Alex Song has certainly not helped Arsenal’s title aspirations. However, the chances of Arsene Wenger’s side finishing ahead of deep-pocketed Manchester United and Manchester City would still have been a major challenge with or without the duo. The Gunners trail United by 21 points and City by 11, and both Manchester clubs have shown few signs of faltering.
Since Wenger took over as Arsenal’s boss in 1996, the Gunners have never finished lower than fourth place. A third-place finish is still within the Frenchman’s grasp, as Arsenal trail Chelsea by only five points.
There are three strong reasons that the Gunners will climb into Champions League contention, and move past Everton, Tottenham, and perhaps Chelsea.
The schedule favors Arsenal. While Arsenal have seven road matches compared to six matches at the Emirates, the Gunners won’t be facing daunting competition, though three matches figure prominently. Arsenal travel to White Hart Lane to meet Tottenham on Mar. 3, and then host Everton on Mar. 9, and Manchester United on April 27.
The remaining 10 matches are against clubs that are mid-table or in danger of being relegated.
Meanwhile, Spurs have a tougher schedule that includes road matches against Chelsea and Liverpool, as well as home encounters with Everton and Manchester City. The schedule is not favorable for Everton either, as the Toffees’ next match is at Old Trafford. Everton also have road matches against Liverpool and Chelsea, as well as a home match against Manchester City.
Arsenal are close to full strength. Unlike in past seasons, injuries have not been quite as prevalent in 2012-2013, as the Gunners appear to have a largely healthy squad. Wenger addressed the injury loss of Kieran Gibbs with the addition of Nacho Monreal, and the Spaniard looks like a more than capable replacement. The prospect of Andre Santos gaining full-time duty at left back may have had disastrous consequences.
The immediate future offers some somewhat grim news in central defense with Laurent Koscielny (calf) and Thomas Vermaelen (ankle) perhaps unavailable for the Sunderland match on Saturday.
But the rest of the squad have minor injuries or ailments, and none should hold them out for an extended period of time. Francis Coquelin and Gervinho are expected back this week, and Gibbs is the only player to be inactive beyond February.
Strong chemistry, and momentum. A near full season of Jack Wilshere has been a boon for Wenger, but so have the additions of Santi Cazorla, Olivier Giroud, and Lukas Podolski. It is rare for a club to have enjoyed as much strong production from all of their offseason reinforcements, but that has basically been the case with the Arsenal attack.
Meanwhile, Theo Walcott has been particularly strong of late and veteran Mikel Arteta has shown few signs of slowing down. Abou Diaby has been a starter in eight Premier League matches this season, after not starting in one last season.
The sole under-achiever has been Santos, who is not expected to see much action with the addition of Monreal and with Gibbs expected to return in mid-March.
Momentum has also been on the Gunners’ side. Since the disappointing home loss to Swansea on Dec. 1, Arsenal have scored 25 goals in 10 matches and only failed to score against Manchester City. In the 10-match span, Arsenal earned six wins, and two draws. The two losses came against heavyweights City and Chelsea.
Arsenal may have a lot on their minds with an upcoming fifth-round FA Cup match against Blackburn Rovers at Emirates, and hosting Bayern Munich on Feb. 19 in the Champions League, but this club appears more focused than in recent seasons.
Wenger’s squad is no longer plagued by contract distractions, and the Gunners have enough depth to weather any potential fatigue problems.
A strong run in the season’s final three months is certainly not a given, but Arsenal’s future appears to be bright.