Arsene Wenger is the Barclays Manager of the Month for October after a perfect October.
Arsenal are sitting joint top of the league with just goal difference separating them and the leaders Manchester City. Yet there would be an acute awareness around the Emirates regarding the November syndrome for the club. Since their last top-2 finish back in 2005, Arsenal have averaged a measly 1.3 points a game across November in the following 10 seasons, their lowest tally for any month. With injuries coming thick and fast, is this when the wheels come off Arsenal’s title challenge? Maybe not.
For starters the squad looks more mature and seems to be nurturing a willingness to win for each other. With Aaron Ramsey, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain and Theo Walcott all simultaneously injured, Joel Campbell stepped up and got himself counted. Similarly Gabriel when asked to deputise for Mertesacker or Koscielny on occasion has been a solid presence at the back. Then there’s the very significant statistic of bench goals, Kieran Gibbs with the latest addition to the list in Sunday’s derby. In a nutshell, there is a strong collective spirit, a strive and hunger displayed by every player whenever called upon, but one wonders if that is enough.
A look at the upcoming fixtures
To put things into context, Arsene Wenger probably couldn’t have designed an easier run of fixtures if he wanted to, from now till Arsenal’s showdown clash versus Man City in late December. The fixtures till then are exactly what cautious managers call “winnable” and experts term as “must-win”(Aston Villa, West Brom, Norwich and Sunderland). That is of course in order to win the league. One or two of those fixtures could even see the knackered Alexis Sanchez being given a much needed breather.
Now, compare that to the fixtures of other teams in and around the top of the table and it’s not difficult to imagine Arsenal being clearly on top when taking on City(who face Liverpool, Southampton and Stoke before the Arsenal game). Not to mention it’s a lot kinder on the Gunners to get their injured contingent back in the mix. The Champions League however, (or the Europa League for that matter) is where the waters begin to run deep. 1 win in 4 means even 2 wins in their last 2 games could lead to elimination. Chances are that Arsenal will not learn their fate before travelling to Greece on Matchday 6, which could further complicate things and add to Wenger’s selection headaches. All eggs in one basket? Maybe. If the basket happens to be the Premier League, Arsenal could well go into their game against Man City on the back of 4 wins on the bounce.
Momentum is a funny thing, just ask Mesut Ozil. The diminutive midfielder has already enjoyed his best season at the club this term, building on one good performance after the other, despite having more than half the season to play. And it’s not just one individual, the team has witnessed more of a collective growth and this is where Arsene Wenger comes in. The omnipresent manager has been here more number of times than any of his contemporaries and will be the architect of Arsenal’s fate come May. A Premier League title to bid a perfect farewell with? Whisper softly.