Why the pressure will be on Arsenal when they face Chelsea

With Arsenal entertaining Chelsea on Monday night, Goal's Brendon Netto explains why Arsene Wenger's men will feel the heat as their place at the top comes under real threat.
 Brendon Netto
 COMMENT | England
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A couple of weeks ago, Arsenal seemed poised to pull away from the chasing pack after amassing a seven-point lead over Liverpool in second place. However, after a draw at home to Everton and a 6-3 drubbing away to Manchester City, there’s every chance that the Premier League leaders may find themselves in fourth place at the end of this round of fixtures.

Before exploring that possibility though, it should be established that the Gunners have been the most impressive team on a regular basis so far although the quite frightening ruthless streak of Manuel Pellegrini’s men means that Arsene Wenger's side are going to have to fight to stay ahead.

The French manager will be looking over his shoulder nervously as his side’s commanding seven-point lead from just two games ago has been hacked down to a precarious two-point advantage. In order to maintain their place at the summit come Tuesday morning, Arsenal will have to beat a wounded Chelsea team who are determined to practice resilience.

Liverpool could go top this weekend

Despite the absence of Steven Gerrard and Daniel Sturridge, a Luis Suarez inspired Liverpool could climb above Arsenal with a win against Cardiff City if Chelsea beat the north London outfit and hence leapfrog them as well. Meanwhile, City can also surpass their opponents from last Saturday on goal difference by beating Fulham at Craven Cottage.

That outcome would place Liverpool in pole position with 36 points, Chelsea in second with the same tally, City in third with 35 points and Arsenal in fourth with 35 as well. Meanwhile, a victory away to Swansea City would even put Everton within a point of the current league leaders.

On the other hand, a draw could put Arsenal level with Liverpool on 36 points but they would still surrender top spot on goal difference while Chelsea could slip to fourth with City winning their game and climbing into third place. Either way, Arsenal risk being dragged back in the race for the league title.

Chelsea have a chance to peg back Arsenal

Of course, they could spare themselves the hassle by simply winning their own game but that’s easier said than done, not only because of Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea are still a formidable side on their day but also because they will be keen to bounce back after being eliminated from the Capital One Cup at the hands of Sunderland in midweek.

Furthermore, Mourinho has said in no uncertain terms that he’s prepared to consider reverting to a more defensive style in order to be more consistent at the back and ensure that his side starts picking up the desired results regardless of their performance in the attacking third.

"It’s something I don’t want to do, to play more counter-attacking, but I’m giving it serious thought. If I want to win 1-0 I think I can as I think it is one of the easiest things in football."

- Jose Mourinho

From his first spell at the club, it was evident that Mourinho has mastered the art of the 1-0 victory. In his first season itself, he recorded 11 victories in the league courtesy of that slender score-line which accounted for 38% of their wins. If he wants to go back to that, Arsenal will have a hard time forcing their way through to goal.

Meanwhile, despite progressing from the ‘Group of Death’ in the Champions League, Arsenal will feel aggrieved not to have won the group from the position they were in as they now face Bayern Munich in the next round, thanks to their second place finish.

The European powerhouse that won the treble last season seems to have gone from strength to strength in the current campaign under new manager Pep Guardiola. Although you can’t rule out Arsenal beating the Germans, it would be a mammoth task and should they fail, as the odds are stacked against them, they’ll be left with the league and FA Cup to focus on.

Arsenal drew Bayern Munich in the Champions League Round of 16

Despite the current state of affairs at Tottenham Hotspur, the north London derby can be unpredictable and with Arsenal facing their cross-town rivals in the FA Cup early next month, that’s another competition in which their progression is far from guaranteed.

Arsenal's fixtures from February 8th to April 5th
Feb 3
Liverpool (A)
Feb 12
Manchester United (H)
Feb 19
Bayern Munich (H)
Feb 22
Sunderland (H)
Mar 1
Stoke City (A)
Mar 8
Swansea City (H)
Mar 11 Bayern Munich (A)
Mar 15 Tottenham Hotspur (A)
Mar 22 Chelsea (A)
Mar 29 Manchester City (H)
Apr 5 Everton (A)
As a result, maintaining their position in the league is all the more important. Wenger can ill afford another trophyless season especially after splurging on £42.5 million-man Mesut Ozil in the summer. With their financial constraints no longer being an issue, Arsenal will have no excuse if their trophy cabinet remains empty in May.

There’s also the issue of current form to consider. Arsenal haven’t won a game in all competitions for over two weeks and while that’s merely a blip in their fine season as of now, it could snowball into something much bigger if they lose in west London. They’ve drawn one and lost two in their last three outings.

Arsenal fans may be tempted to simply accept that their team may struggle a bit during the busy winter period and look to pick up the pace again once they ride out this spell. However, the Gunners won’t be out of the woods for too long as they face Liverpool (A), Manchester United (H), Bayern home and away, Tottenham (A), Chelsea (A), City (H) and Everton (A) in quick succession from February 8th to April 5th.

A bad run of form now could do serious damage to Arsenal’s bid to win the league. With Jack Wilshere suspended, Laurent Koscielny injured and Olivier Giroud seemingly off the pace, Chelsea have every chance of getting a result at The Emirates Stadium on Monday night and dragging their opponents back into the scramble at the top of the table. The season is far from over and it’s up to Arsenal now to stand the test of time and prove themselves worthy of the Premier League crown.


Can Arsenal hold on to top spot this weekend? Send in your thoughts in the comments below or discuss with the writer on Twitter @BrendonNetto.

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