Preview: Arsenal vs Wigan
It is not every week that Arsenal play guests in Manchester, it is not every week that Wenger’s men confront potential title rivals and it is not every fortnight that the Gunners are dispatched in back-to-back away fixtures.
That said, the adversity of the past three weeks is not what will significantly affect Arsenal in the title race.
Indeed, it is typical weekends like the one ahead which will prove decisive.
Popular knowledge says winning the big showdowns highlights a side’s title credentials. But according to history, nothing is more vital than home form and ruthlessness against weaker oppositions when pursuing the Premier League crown.
Where is the evidence?
15 wins out of 19 home games spurred Arsenal to becoming the ‘Invicinbles’ of 2003/04. Wenger’s men were 5 points ahead of United in the league until a streak of four winnable draws – half of them at home – saw them relinquish their title poise in 2007/08. That’s the same fate runners-up Liverpool suffered last season after losing the fewest while boasting the best results against fellow ‘big four’ sides, but home draws to teams like Fulham, Hull and Stoke City left them short of top spot in the end.
And it was only after those four straight league draws last season (three of which were 0-0 stalemates at home) that Arsenal realized there was an uncatchable gap to make up in the title race.
Therefore, winnable matches like tomorrow’s are truly what have undermined Arsenal’s shot at the title over the past years.
And if they were licking their lips ahead of the tour of Manchester, Wenger’s men should be rolling up their sleeves for this Wigan visit, because Saturday’s outcome will draw a much bigger picture about Arsenal’s progress.
Few have doubted their ability to show up for the big clashes, and you would expect them to pull off a revenge were United and City to come again, but it is against the Wigans and Fulhams who are up next on the league schedule that the points are often more costly.
After a couple of agonizing defeats, Wenger demanded a response from his side. With the 3-2 comeback in midweek, his boys delivered it through character, but they will have to return with flair also. Hopefully, tomorrow will see that.