“One game does not make or break a season.”
This is usually the general sentiment I stick by when it comes to the Premier League.
Not only is it true 90% of the time, but it stops me, as a fan, falling into a bottomless pit of despair after we lose 4-0 away to Southampton on Boxing day…
Indeed, each match is only worth three points, no matter who we’re facing. Beating bottom of the league Aston Villa is technically no less valuable than victory over one of our closest rivals. However, when it comes to facing Chelsea at the Emirates on Sunday, I beg to differ.
Last time we faced the Blues, we lost 2-0. The match was, quite rightly, overshadowed by some bizarre refereeing decisions and casual thuggery from Diego Costa but ultimately it meant we dropped three points. Three vital points in our hunt for the title.
Now, it’s after Christmas and we’re on the home straight, so to speak. We’re currently top of the league, even if it is only by goal difference, and the bookies reckon we’re going to bring that Premiership trophy back to the Emirates (which alone makes me nervous). If we lose against Chelsea on Sunday and the foxes draw against or beat Stoke, while City win against the Hammers, we’re suddenly not in quite such a strong position.
However, it’s not necessarily the points I’m talking about here. Of course, we have enough time mathematically to make up the points on our rivals.
No, it’s that dreaded mental impact we’re always harping on about.
When we lost at Stamford Bridge we could always fall back on the excuse that we were unfairly reduced to 10 men, were kicked from pillar to post and the goals we conceded were cheap. This is all true and not so much an excuse but an explanation. However, if we were to lose to Chelsea at home, on our turf, this could have a huge impact on the squad.
Since Christmas we’ve been riding our luck a bit. We’ve had brilliant moments and don’t get me wrong, winning ugly is all part of being the best team in the league. But something has needed to shift for a while. I could put this down to injuries to a large chunk of our first choice midfield but the problems in the middle of the park have been around for a while. As brilliant as they are individually, Coquelin and Cazorla don’t appear to consistently gel well as a duo and there have been countless matches this season where massive, gaping expanses have opened up in front of our defence.
I remember our first half against Swansea away, we were dire. Our midfield was nowhere to be seen and although we improved in the second half and won, this was a problem which continued to frustrate fans in matches to come.
This is an issue which hasn’t disappeared, even without Coq and Santi on the pitch. Against Stoke, this became abundantly clear when the other-worldly Mesut Ozil was ruled out with a minor foot injury. The Potters found it embarrassingly easy to outplay us in the middle of the park after our entire midfield (except maybe energiser bunny, Ramsey) decided to take a holiday. This is an area we actually have a massive amount of talent in and it’s concerning to see us struggle there.
What I’m saying it, we’re not really playing out best right now and I’m sure the squad are more than aware of this. Although Chelsea aren’t exactly Barcelona right now, since sacking Mourinho they’re no longer the relegation fodder we perceived them to be earlier in the season. Now they’re just midtable…
Regardless of where they are, Chelsea are still a ‘big team’. No matter how much we don’t want it to be true, this is a fact. And beating them could mean so much more than just three points.
Although we managed to take home the Community Shield in pre-season, the last time we beat them in the league was Oct 2011 in that thrilling 5-3 victory at Stamford Bridge. We’re well overdue now and while beating them would give us the faith we need to go on and win the league, losing could do the opposite and that’s what I’m worried about.
Arguably, you could say this is true of any opponent, losing in any manner to any club has the potential to derail a title challenge. But I think we all know that this Arsenal team has a tangible fear of Chelsea. Just like our phobia of Man United, which we now appear to have got some sort of therapy for and are gradually overcoming, we have a huge mental stumbling block when it comes to the Blues. Now is the time we have to beat them, we just have to, because if we don’t now, when will we?