It’s been just over a day since Arsenal’s fixture list for the 2017–18 Premier League season was announced and there really is only one way to describe it – perfect.
The first thing that always stands out when we see a fixture list for the first time are the negatives, and the new season certainly has its fair share of them.
A tricky start with Stoke and Liverpool away in the first three games, five of the six games after a Europa League group stage game away from home, with two of those games against Chelsea and Manchester City.
Seeing blocks of games like that together should worry Arsenal and its management.
If anything manages to act as a ‘catalyst for change’ (and it sure as hell won’t be Ivan Gazidis) for how we approach the start of a season, seeing a fixture list that starts with two very awkward away games might be enough to convince Arsene Wenger to get all his transfer business done as soon as possible so that Arsenal won’t be in the position of having to rest their best players at home to a top 4 rival……
The biggest takeaway from next season’s fixture list isn’t the negatives, but how far they’re spread out from each other. Yes, having so many away fixtures on a Sunday after a Europa League game on a Thursday is going to be far from ideal, but we’ve just spent the last nine months bemoaning the fact that the likes of Rob Holding and Lucas Perez weren’t getting enough games. Manchester United won this competition last season and David De Gea only played three games throughout the entire competition.
Arsenal will have a squad that can deal with the mass rotation required to navigate the group stages without too much fuss, all they needed was for the fixture list to put all their hardest games before the end of February so that playing their strongest XI in the knockout stages would be less of an headache.
And that’s exactly what they got.
The only hiccup that got thrown into the mix is that Arsenal would have to play at Old Trafford in between the two semi–final legs.
But by then, Arsenal should be in a position to work out what is their best hope of getting back into the Champions League in 2018; top 4 or win the Europa League.
It’s a decision that Manchester United had to make themselves, and promptly threw in the towel at the Emirates to focus on Europe. If Arsenal had been given a tougher run–in, then it would’ve been significantly harder to work out what to do, but Arsenal could end up only playing one team from the top half of the league in their last 10 games.
It couldn’t have worked out any better….
Next chapter: There may be trouble ahead…
There may be trouble ahead
The only real trouble spot that exists so far is in early December.
Manchester United at home, a Europa League game four days later, then Southampton away three days after that, followed by West Ham away three days after that.
We saw how losing at Everton and then at Manchester City three days later was a complete momentum killer. The fact that this also happened in December is definitely something to worry about, and this little bloc of fixtures has the potential to be just as big a hurdle to climb if we start to stumble a bit.
But just like last year, the Christmas fixture list immediately afterwards has been kind to us.
Yes, it starts with Liverpool but it’s at home, followed by Crystal Palace and West Brom away, both not the hardest and certainly not an annoyance travelwise. It ends with Chelsea, 48 hours after the West Brom game, but fortunately once again, it’s at home. It’s much preferable this way than if these fixtures were reversed and Arsenal had to travel to both Anfield and Stamford Bridge in the space of a week and a half.
Remember, it wasn’t until the very last day of January before Arsenal went into tailspin and the season went pear shaped, after an awful loss at home to Watford. But our next three away fixtures in a row after that were at Chelsea, followed by Bayern Munich, followed by Liverpool.
There was simply no chance to put together a little run of wins to get some confidence back into the team until we faced Palace away in April, but by then the damage was done, and we had to resort to playing with five at the back to get back on track.
So even though it looks bad on paper, Arsenal’s fixture list is not the minefield that it appears to be.
It’s never going to be perfect, and whilst some games will inevitably be harder than expected due to injuries or suspensions, the same could easily work in our favour as well.
The only thing to worry about at this stage, is where will you be watching the game, and how do you avoid paying through the nose to get to watch a game or three in person.
Today is not the day for worrying about who Arsenal will have to play in midfield against Huddersfield Town at the end of November, it’s a day for figuring out the precise curse word to label Michael O’Leary as for charging an extra fee to sit beside your mate in one of the sweat boxes he calls a ‘plane’ so that you can go watch the game in the first place.
I’m going to the opening game against Leicester City on the weekend of the 12th of August, because it’s been far, far too long since my last pilgrimage to Arsenal.
Feel free to call me a mug if you see me. Come on you Gunners.