The biggest match of the season, a season defining week, make or break for Arteta, are all phrases that any Arsenal fan will have read or spoken this week ahead of the Europa League Round of 16 and the North London Derby. In reality, it is simply the biggest week, since the last biggest week, that saw the team sneak past Benfica and follow it up with an impressive win over Leicester.
Such is the nature of the sentiment of the fanbase and the media when it comes to Arteta’s Arsenal and this is purely down to the lack of consistency. To move swiftly from a fabulous win at the KP, to a stuttering draw at Turf Moor, encapsulated the season to date. There are many factors contributing to the inconsistency and different observers will consider, one or other the major one. Certainly, individual player error or indiscipline cannot be laid at the manager’s door, neither can bizarre refereeing decisions or VAR calls. Some of the latter have changed the course of matches Arsenal seemed on course to win. What is down to the young Spaniard, is how his team start matches slowly too often, how they react to the poor decisions, the constant changing of the central defensive pairing and some hard to fathom substitutions.
So, are the next three matches indeed season defining or is that an over exaggeration? Well certainly if we win them, they will have been season defining until the week Arsenal play the Europa League Quarter Final. The real answer I think will be dependent on whether your individual view is that Arsenal and Arteta’s season will be deemed a failure if they do not qualify for the Champions League. For all Gooners, this was the aspiration but for some it is the benchmark, and this explains why every round of the Europa league, because given our league position, winning this competition is now the only route back to Europe’s Top Table.
Individual opinions are being reflected in differing view on which match Arteta should play his strongest team, as many see Thursday now as more important even than North London bragging rights. My own view differs because I still believe and hope that this team is so close to clicking and putting a winning run together in the Premier League. I passionately want us to win the Europa and feel we can do so but I have far from given up on Arsenal finishing in a European place in the league. Many of the sides just above us are equally inconsistent and we play most of them in the coming weeks. Beating Spurs, West Ham and Liverpool could quit easily see Arsenal seventh at the beginning of April, with Sheffield United and Fulham to follow.
From my perspective therefore I want Arteta to decide his strongest 11 and play it tonight and then within reason with a few tweaks play it again on Sunday. Spurs let us not forget are in the same boat as us. A convincing win on Thursday, gives the team confidence and the players will be buzzing to take on the old enemy. Arteta now has a fully fit squad so can rotate, in theory, a bit, without weakening his team, as we saw at Leicester. I hope by beating the teams just above us in the coming weeks, in addition to progressing past Olympiacos, might well cause us to see this campaign in a new light.
Yes, we have been inconsistent, yes, we have lost too many matches but there still 11 more to play and 33 points up for grabs. The Top four I accept is a pipe dream but the top six, is progress, and European football, albeit not the competition we hoped for and with a rebuild that needs us to attract new players, positive momentum from now until May is vital. For those who would now forsake the league position and put all their eggs in the Europa League basket, I say we are not at that stage yet, at least not until the next season defining week anyway!
This is my full unedited version of yesterday’s Sun Fan’s View
Passionate fifty-something Arsenal supporter who has been making the journey to N5 regularly since the early 1980s – although his first game was in 1976. Always passionate when talking about The Arsenal, Dave decided to send a guest blog to Gunnersphere in the summer of 2011 and has not stopped writing about the Gunners since.
He set up his own site – 1 Nil Down 2 One Up – in February 2012, which he moved on in 2016 to concentrate on freelance writing and building Gunners Town, which he launched with Paul in 2014.
The objective of GT was to be new and fresh and to give a platform for likeminded passionate Arsenal fans wishing to write about their team. Dave still of course, writes for the site himself and advises the ever-changing writing crew.