At first glance, Arsenal’s Premier League fixtures have been relatively kind to them. Dig a little deeper and that doesn’t really change too much and it doesn’t matter anyway.
Sure, there are a couple of tricky periods, but, on the whole, there’s not too much to complain about. It’s not like we are Manchester City who have to play Liverpool, Chelsea, United and Arsenal all within the space of six games during November and December. Then again, it’s not like Arsenal are Man City in general.
They can cope with that sort of run. I doubt if Arsenal could.
Kicking off their race for the Champions League, 19/20 edition, Arsenal head to Newcastle on the opening weekend. They’ll be hoping to be flush with cash from a new owner and no doubt eager to show that they can be the next Chelsea/City/PSG. Arsenal need to be ready from the first kick-off this season or they will find themselves playing catch up after Matchday 1. Again.
Liverpool open at home to Norwich while City travel to West Ham and Spurs host newly-promoted Aston Villa. From that list, Arsenal have the trickiest opening fixture until you realise that Manchester United v Chelsea follows the Gunners game at St. James’ Park.
When Unai Emery first arrived at Arsenal he had to navigate opening games against Manchester City and Chelsea. Two games into his reign at the club and Arsenal were already six points behind the pack. In the new season, they don’t have that problem and it can’t be overstated how much confidence a good start can give a side. Sure, Arsenal went on a 22-game unbeaten run after those opening defeats last season, but nobody who watched them would tell you with a straight face that they did so with any sort of confidence in what they were doing.
The fixtures, of course, will move a lot when the TV companies decide which matches they want and the Europa League is factored in. Arsenal’s failure to win the competition last season and their Premier League collapse means they are strapped to the Thursday-Sunday-Thursday wheel of misery once again.
But their opponents following their Europa League group matches are all beatable, apart from City (h). Home to Villa, Bournemouth and Crystal Palace, then away to Norwich, are all games Arsenal should win, even if they rotate. I think I’ve said that before.
Spurs face a much trickier prospect with four away games following their Champions League matches including a trip to Liverpool. City will have to play Liverpool, Arsenal and Newcastle. Manchester United have three away and three at home, but none against the top six. Liverpool have Chelsea, Spurs and City while Chelsea have Liverpool and West Ham to face post-European game.
Arsenal can’t even complain about their November fixtures. A month they always struggle for some inexplicable reason, this season they have no excuses. Wolves (h), Leicester (a), Southampton (h), and Norwich (a) should terrify nobody connected with the club.
It all could have been much worse for Arsenal.
No matter what way I look at all this, whether I consider the back-to-back games against Liverpool and Spurs in matchdays 3 and 4 or the two games against Spurs and Liverpool to close out the season, or even the Chelsea and Manchester United doubleheader over Christmas, the fixtures calendar seems to have been relatively kind to Arsenal.
There are no excuses to be had should they struggle in the league. The matches are spread out relatively fairly, there are no more than two extremely hard matches in a row, and the fixtures following their Europa League games are all winnable, especially if Unai Emery continues to prepare the side for games against the top six as he did last season.
Arsenal’s real test will come in the games they lost to unexpected opposition last season. They will be asked their toughest questions against the smaller teams because that’s where they fell on their face last season.
That’s the thing with the fixtures list, it is largely irrelevant. Everybody has to play everybody else twice, home and away and all that matters is what you do on the pitch, not what order the games come in.
It’s funny like that.
This article first appeared on Paddy Power