Momentum building behind Arsenal’s title challenge
This campaign is undoubtedly one of the most turbulent seasons in the rich history of the Premier League, epitomised by Chelsea’s shock defeat at home to Manchester City this weekend.
The first top flight club to go into administration, the toil of Liverpool, the lingering debts hanging over many English clubs, and off-the-field exploits of high profile stars have ensured continuous nattering between football fans and the frenetic pattering of keyboards as everyone voices their own unique viewpoint on all things football.
On Saturday, a frail Chelsea rearguard was thoroughly dissected by the burlesque Carlos Tevez and tenacious Craig Bellamy as Roberto Mancini inflicted more misery on his old adversary Carlo Ancelotti.
The former AC Milan manager struck a withered figure at full time, with the home fans dashing for the exits faster than Cheryl Cole penning her signature to divorce papers. The title race has now been left wide open with Arsenal and Manchester United vying to dislodge Chelsea from the summit of the League.
A quick glance at the remaining fixtures for the trio of clubs suggests that Arsene Wenger can take solace from an easier run-in with his side facing clashes against six teams fighting for survival in the League.
Their weekend trip to the Britannia Stadium was overshadowed by the horrific leg break sustained by the much-admired Aaron Ramsey. The Welsh international emerged from a challenge with Ryan Shawcross clutching his leg and writhing in obvious agony.
The distressed expressions on the faces of Shawcross and his peers clearly highlighted the horrific nature of the injury. For Arsenal fans it provided an unwelcome throwback to that fateful trip to St. Andrews two years previously.
A horrendous challenge by Martin Taylor on their enigmatic Croatian, Eduardo, left the striker nursing a broken left fibula and an open dislocation of the ankle. That day, the traumatic scenes affected the Arsenal team as they subsequently failed to defend their 2-1 lead with Birmingham City equalising in the dying moments of the game.
It was a result which had a decisive impact on their season: their lead at the top of the table soon dwindled as Manchester United eroded the gap between themselves and Wenger’s side and ultimately claimed an impressive 16th League title
Of course, a strong case will be presented that argues that this latest laceration could decimate the championship credentials of the Gunners. Many point to their lack of maturity, limited experience and a desire to play a brand of football which leaves them susceptible to overly-boisterous teams as valid factors which will ultimately lead to yet more failure in the hunt for a first league success since 2004.
But despite these perceived weaknesses, Arsenal showed immense character against Stoke. A steely trait emerged as they grinded out an away victory under disconcerting circumstances. Instead of sapping their courage, the shocking scenes served to inspire the eleven players on the pitch.
What happened on Saturday evening is a clear indicator of progression and it is a win which gives them a credible claim in their quest to dismount Manchester United at the pinnacle of the domestic front.
The departure of the difficult character that was Emmanuel Adebayor has had a positive effect on the dressing room. Arguably, the Togo international’s infamous celebration earlier this season seemed to unite the Gunners.
The return of Sol Campbell is another key factor. Despite his ageing frame, the former England international brings an indispensible quality to the changing room: leadership.
He is passionate, vocal and leads by example.
These are all characteristics, according to the sniping sceptics at least, which have been vacant among the Arsenal players. Whether this was a deficiency that can be legitimately aimed at Wenger’s team is open to debate, with his squad already boasting spirited characters such as Cesc Fabregas, William Gallas and Robin van Persie.
But the influence of Sol Campbell is undeniable. With such a depleted squad through injuries, the former Spurs centre back will play an increasingly vital role in their quest for a fourth Premier League crown.
And once again, Arsenal also benefit from the luxury of a kind run of fixtures in their remaining games. They will take on Burnley, Hull, West Ham, Birmingham City and Wolves in successive games with the only potential banana skin coming in the form of a trip across north London to White Hart Lane.
Chelsea and Manchester United meanwhile both face decidedly trickier encounters. Chelsea will make difficult trips to Old Trafford and Anfield while the Red Devils must entertain Ancelotti’s side and their city rivals.
As Arsene Wenger harbours a deep desire to end this sustained spell of domestic inertia, the injury to Aaron Ramsey could well prove the crucial catalyst to inspire the Gunners to glory.