Our run of form in the past few weeks has been reminiscent of a championship-chasing team. Focused, defensively sound and potent in attack when we need to be, we’ve been churning out the league victories with satisfying regularity.
Today, in Man City, we face the best team we’ve come across all season and it will be an acid test for what we should hope for in the rest of the campaign.
Part of me knows this remodelled Arsenal has not faced a team of this quality during our mini resurgence and it could provide a harsh reality check. Part me of me also knows that we are weakened by Santos’ absence and the likely re-shuffling of defenders it will cause.
And yet part of me also has a belief that the maturity now being shown by the team and the desire to keep winning – together with the body blow that Man City took in losing for the first time – may be enough to spring a surprise. There’s been a definite change in the team compared to the gloom I was expecting us to descend into after the Man U, Blackburn and Spurs defeats.
Winning this match would suddenly make a title challenge an outside possibility, closing the gap to top spot to just six points. I can’t convince myself we have enough quality in depth to maintain our form until May but a victory would feel like a salvage job of some of the points thrown away at the start of the season, before our transfer deadline deals were made.
Overhauling Man City would involve turning their blip of the Chelsea defeat into a wobble and watching it grow into a crisis. With the array of talent they possess and their Invincibles-like one-touch passing style, they look certain to claim the title otherwise. At least we don’t have to worry about ensuring the unbeaten record of the Invincibles’ will remain unique in the history books for another year.
All a defeat today would cost us is ground in the race for fourth – you can’t imagine there being any lasting mental damage from losing to the title favourites – and confirm that is the height of our ambitions for the remaining 22 games (at least five losses before Christmas is not the record of champions-elect).
A win followed by a decent Christmas and some January reinforcements would make life much more interesting, though.
Podolski is not the German we need
Talking of the January sales, I was glad Wenger gave short shrift to the possibility of a move for Lukas Podolski when he was asked about it on Friday. Podolski has never really impressed consistently and reminds me of a less skilful Jose Antonio Reyes – very quick and with a powerful shot but lacking in guile and craft. We’ve already got one left foot cannon up front and we don’t need another (unless Van Persie doesn’t sign that contract…).
The Bundesliga striker I’d prefer is Marko Reus of Borussia Moenchengladbach. It is usual for the best of the lesser German clubs to be picked up by Bayern Munich but we’ve been linked with him quietly and from what I’ve seen of him he would be a great addition to the front line. Small, quick, technical and adaptable, he represents the new type of player that is favoured in the modern 4-3-3 formation – not a striker, not a winger, not an ‘in the hole’ man, just an attacker who creates and scores.
If we really do want to make a title push a couple of players of his quality are required, regardless of the outcome today.