The Arsenal Annals: Why January is the do-or-die month for the Gunners

Praveen’s latest “The Arsenal Annals” column.

Sitting fifth in the Premier League after match day 20, Arsenal’s chances of usurping clear favourites Chelsea to lift the Premier League title in over 13 years seems bleak, at least according to the slightly pessimistic Gooner demographic.

However, should the results go their way between now and the end of December, their chances of pulling off the impossible will multiply exponentially.

 

Favourable set of fixtures

At the back of Chelsea’s loss at Tottenham Hotspur, the gap remains still at eight points.

However, odds are that the Blues may not rebound as quickly as they fancy as trips to Leicester City and Liverpool are to be made in January.

Although they are certain to obliterate Hull City later this month, the other fixtures can prove detrimental to their title ambitions.

Should Arsenal collect maximum points in the same period, against Swansea City, Burnley and Watford, the London rivals can be just three points apart heading into a potential title-deciding London derby at Stamford Bridge on February 4.

With Liverpool, Manchester City and Tottenham sitting above them, however, they can hardly pin their title hopes on a single team’s slide.

However, the stars have aligned for them to gain a strong foothold in the 2016-17 title race as the other title contenders will be locking horns with tougher opponents this month.

Second-placed Liverpool face tough tests this month as they travel to Manchester United in addition to the home game against Chelsea.

With Jurgen Klopp’s key striker in Sadio Mane swapping England for Gabon ahead of the Africa Cup of Nations throughout January, three points will likely be somewhat difficult to earn for the Reds.

Tottenham and City do battle at Etihad Stadium on matchday 22, with away games against Everton and West Ham United sandwiching the top-four clash for Pep Guardiola’s team; Mauricio Pochettino welcomes somewhat tricky opponents in the high-flying West Bromwich Albion before the Manchester trip.

 

Return of key players

Arsene Wenger is set to welcome back talisman Mesut Ozil, with the player pencilled in to return shortly in the wake of recovering from flu.

Despite many fans turning on him in light of a few lacklustre performances, he remains capable of producing moments that can reroute the game in Arsenal’s direction in a jiffy.

Options in the wings multiply in the coming days with Danny Welbeck and Theo Walcott returning imminently.

The former proves a superb upgrade to Alex Iwobi, who has been floundering in the recent weeks despite his high ceiling, with the latter expected to not only hand in-form Lucas Perez much-needed competition but also be a serious goal threat himself.

Additionally, with Olivier Giroud hitting form and Alexis Sanchez keeping up his, Arsenal’s attacking displays should be at an all-season high in the next few games.

The backline’s performances in the recent weeks have been a far cry from their early season laurels.

However, with Kieran Gibbs returning shortly, Gabriel Paulista somehow managing to be the error-free version of himself and Shkodran Mustafi deemed fit to partner the ever-consistent Laurent Koscielny, solidity at the back will likely become the norm again.

All in all, the stage is set for the perennial chokers in Arsenal to regain their place in the title race.

 

Written by Praveen Paramasivam

Follow Praveen on Twitter @49Praveen

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