1997-98 Championship – 13 years ago, Arsenal played the most fascinating three months of end-of-season football to get past Manchester United in the race for the league title. Their closest adversary were eleven points clear of them on the 1st of March but the flair and ambition of the Gunners was too much for United to keep pace with. The team combined their game with a solid defensive force along with a flamboyant attacking unit with Dennis Bergkamp at the helm of affairs in Arsenal’s attack. The Gunners finished the season exactly one point ahead of Manchester United; and they even secured an FA Cup title to record a famous ‘Double’, a repeat of 1971.
2001-02 Championship – Winning this championship was probably the closest equivalent of the legendary victory over Liverpool at Anfield in 89’ on the last day of the season. The title favorites met on the penultimate match of the season at Old Trafford, Arsenal requiring a draw while United needed to win to clinch the coveted trophy. It was that famous goal from Sylvian Wiltord which won them the league that season, of course, immediately levitating him to a cult status among the Gunners.
2003-04 Championship – Arguably the most famous season in the history of English Football which took the Arsenal team to an all new echelon of footballing proficiency. Without having to bother about any other teams’ fortunes, Arsenal went on with their own extraordinary game as they finished the season as ‘Invincibles’. Their final statistic at the end of the season read – ‘Played – 38, Won – 26, Drawn – 12, Lost – None’. A specially designed ‘golden’ trophy was presented to the mighty Arsenal side.
2010-11 Championship: Present Day – Arsenal are five points behind United with a game in hand and only one tournament to play for. Whether that is a good thing or bad, only time will tell. This Arsenal team has shown tremendous character this season to reach wherever they are right now. They might have had to go through that agonizing time frame where they got hurled out of three competitions in the blink of an eye, but the determination to win is still there among the players as they interact with fans on a daily basis. The five most important ingredients that can help the Gunners win the Championship this season are:
The Cesc-Nasri-Arshavin Triangle Of Creativity
It is inevitable that Arsenal would want their skipper to come up with that stellar pass in a crunch game, which is understandable. If you have an exceptionally talented player among your ranks, it is certainly not wrong to expect a moment of absolute class from him. But, it is equally important that the skillful players around him like Nasri and Arshavin take as much pressure of Cesc as possible. Nasri have had a fantastic season till he went out injured in February, he hasn’t come back to the ‘groove’ since then. On his day, he is well capable of turning a match on its head like he has done so many times this season bringing poetry to motion. Andrei Arshavin had a quiet season to start with bringing a lot of flak upon him from all corners. But, he has picked up considerable amount of form in the recent Arsenal outings. He, like Samir, can produce moments of absolute magic and win matches for Arsenal. While certainly easier said than done, these three need to click together in the remaining matches for the Gunners to sail through to the League summit.
Robin van Persie’s Sharpness and Fitness
It is believed that van Persie injures himself in one out of every four outings for The Netherlands; such has been his misfortune with the national side. He is a fantastic player, an exceptionally gifted striker who is capable of scoring stellar goals which has been missing since Arsenal lost the services of the legendary Thierry Henry and the mercurial Dennis Bergkamp. But, unfortunately the Dutchman has hardly stayed fit throughout his Arsenal career. Apart from the 2008-09’ season, he has never started more than 17 games in any of the seven seasons in the famous Red and White. If Arsenal are to win this indescribably important title, their star striker needs to stay fit and sharp for the rest of the season.
Alexandre Song at the Peak of his Game
Arsenal never replaced the talismanic Patrick Vieira with an experienced head, Arsene worked hard on Alexandre Song, polished the rough edges off him and made him a force in the league. In fact, Song has now become an indispensable name in the lineup; there is no substitute of his caliber who can fill up his boots in his absence. Diaby has failed, Denilson has botched it miserably. In the absence of first choice defenders, the Arsenal backline needs optimum protection from Alex Song. He needs to completely forget about any kind of attacking duties and concentrate on ‘shaping up the Defense of Arsenal’.
The Squillacielny combination at the heart of the defense
The ideal combination for the season would have been Vermaelen and Djourou, but Arsenal are missing both their top-class Center Backs through injuries. In the absence of these men, the onus is on the experienced Sebastian Squillaci to form a combination with Koscielny for the rest of the season. They both have been good for the team in spells but have failed to click as a unit. The French duo needs to throw the past away and concentrate as hard as they can for the last nine games of the season.
Almunia – How many Minutes can he Survive without a Scare?
Manuel Almunia is a decent keeper capable of making spectacular saves at times but suffers from bouts of madness which leads to Arsenal dropping points in the league and cup. There is no logical explanation as to why Arsene Wenger has kept him in the team and not bought a capable and experienced keeper to play alongside the incredible talented Szczsney. Sadly, the entire sane contingent of Arsenal keepers are out injured and they are left with Almunia and the 41 year old Jens Lehmann, barely a motivational factor for the defensive unit ahead of them. The Gooners would be hoping that Almunia can keep himself in control for as long as possible, if they are to keep clean sheets in some of the remaining games.
All in all, with the other title challengers playing more games and even having a relatively tougher fixture list than Arsenal, this is the season the Gunners just cannot afford to let go. They need to step on the gas for the remainder of the season and concentrate on their strong point – attacking, and scoring! Will a hero be born? Will Arsene finally be able to prove his point? Will Arsenal rise and shine? Only time will tell.
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