Despite the international interlull, Arsene Wenger is sure to already be plotting his tactics for the next few weeks, which he defines himself as a hugely vital one in determining where his team will be challenging this season.
Arsenal impressed in their 2-0 victory at Anfield with a stylish, slick performance. But perhaps it should be remembered that this is a Liverpool side who on top of their well documented problems in the forward positions, have had many “teething problems” under Brendan Rodgers as he tries to impose his passing philosophy.
Thus, as heartening as the victory was, it should be remembered that there are tougher tests to come and none more so in the next month where the Gunners will face both the reigning league champions and European champions in the Premier League while also opening their challenges for the Champions League and League Cup.
While a home tie against struggling Coventry in the latter should not prove too difficult a hurdle for what will surely be Arsenal’s second string to overcome, the Champions League sees them face perhaps their most difficult tie of the group, away to Montpellier. The French champions may have lost their star man in Olivier Giroud to the Gunners but a good start in the group stages of the Champions League is imperative and Wenger will be sure to target three points in his side’s opening game.
However, away from the cup competitions the focus will as always, be on the Premier League. The fixture list sees Arsenal take on bottom of the table and pointless Southampton before visiting Manchester City, welcoming Chelsea to the Emirates before travelling to Upton Park to take on nemesis Sam Allardyce and West Ham. The Gunners have faced such fixture schedules before in Wengers’ reign and they have often set the tone for an entire season. For instance, a run of games against Newcastle, Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea that brought 10 points of 12 was the precursor for the famous success of the “invincibles” in 2004, while last season, early season reverses to Liverpool, Man Utd and Tottenham gave an indication of the struggles Arsenal would face as the season bore on.
This year, It has undoubtedly been a positive start, particularly defensively, but the next four league games will tell us where Arsenal are pitching at for the forthcoming season. The visit of Southampton may seem like a comfortable afternoon but games after the international break are notoriously difficult for a team like Arsenal, with so many participants for their national teams. Additionally, the Gunners have struggled against recently promoted clubs before, with home defeats to Hull, Newcastle and West Brom in seasons gone by instantly springing to mind. Next comes the visit to the champions and here Arsenal’s new found defensive solidity under Steve Bould will surely be put to the test against a team that contains the forward talents of Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez, Samir Nasri and Yaya Toure.
Similarly, the visit of Chelsea to the Emirates with their early season form and the precocious ability of Eden Hazard, a long time Arsenal target, will push the Gunners’ defensive fortitude to the limit. Finally, although the short trip across London to West Ham does not compare on paper with the challenges of the previous two fixtures, Allardyce will no doubt set up his team in the physical manner that has ruffled Arsenal and Wenger’s feathers in the past. Indeed, if Andy Carroll is fit by time of the game and considering the way West Ham played to his strengths to reap such rewards on his debut against Fulham, Arsenal’s defence could be in for a very tough afternoon.
So what would constitute a success from such a tough schedule for the Gunners? Progress in the League Cup goes without saying while Arsenal will be expected to get their European campaign off to a winning start though a point would perhaps not be an absolute disaster. As for the league, Wenger and the fans will expect his charges to come away with six points against the recently promoted duo of Southampton and West Ham, despite whatever threat they may pose. The Chelsea game, as difficult as it will be considering the form the likes of Fernando Torres and Hazard have shown in the early stages of this season, will also be one the Gunners will expect to win with the support of the Emirates behind them. Of course, there is no power play of Didier Drogba to contend with from the Blues anymore. Undoubtedly the toughest test will be the trip to the Etihad to play Manchester City and despite the champions’ stuttering start to the season, a point there would still resemble a fine achievement for the Gunners. At least nine points from 12 and we could be looking at a very unexpected but serious title challenge from Arsene Wenger’s team.