Last season’s euphoria over winning our first trophy in nine years has long since dissipated, especially with the drama surrounding our performances in the first half of this season. However, with the business end of competitions drawing closer and teams getting eliminated in droves, it is time to take a look at whether we will be able to celebrate at the end of this season as well.
Arsenal are currently part of three competitions – The Champions League, the Premier League and the FA Cup. In the European competition, we have a Round of 16 clash with AS Monaco to look forward to and that means a strong possibility of progression. Although we cannot take anything for granted, the Monaco team lacks its bite from the past couple of seasons and without players like Rodriguez and Falcao it is tough to see them upsetting us. This means that we will in all probability progress to the quarter finals but there it becomes scary. Potential rivals in that stage include the likes of Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Barcelona and of course Chelsea. Based on our performances this season, winning a two legged fixture against any of these teams seems a mammoth task. Even with the recent spike in form, I would look upon a visit to the Santiago Bernebau or the Allianz Arena with dread. A shot at silverware, though possible, is definitely not guaranteed in this competition.
Then comes the Premier League. Our form throughout December was encouraging and despite the loss against Southampton at the start of the New Year the team seems to have bounced back with the victory over Manchester City at the Etihad. We are in fifth place, just a point behind United in fourth. A Champions League berth beckons and with the turmoil amongst the big teams this year we could easily still overtake United and slot into fourth. In fact, I am going to stand by my original prediction of third place. With 22 games played and only 3 points separating us from the Saints we could easily leapfrog them as well. However, winning the League is out of our hands. Chelsea are still 13 points ahead, a massive lead. And though Mourinho’s team have suffered a few reverses lately, it is tough to see them throwing away that big a lead. The dream of the league will have to wait another year.
That leaves just the FA Cup, and there are a lot of factors in our favour in this competition. Not only are we the defending Champions, the major cupsets that have occurred over the past week means that we are one of the only ‘big teams’ left. Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham and Southampton were all knocked out of the competition in the fourth round and United as well as Liverpool have to play replays which could still to either way. Meanwhile we won our game in the first attempt, although not without a bit of a scare.
This is not to say that it is going to be a cakewalk; our next opponents are Middlesbrough, the team that eliminated City and who possess the tightest defence in the Championship. Getting past them will be a challenging task, and then of course there are teams like United if they manage to qualify. And one can never quite discount the smaller teams either, as Bradford City proved emphatically at Stamford Bridge. But considering the quality of opposition and the ground to be made up in the other competitions, the road to the trophy in the FA Cup seems to be the smoothest.
Of course there is much football still to be played, and we could win any combination of these three or (god forbid) none at all. But if I had to bet, I would place money on the FA Cup. The players will also be motivated to make another appearance at the Wembley and defend the trophy that they won in such spectacular fashion last season. Hopefully, this May we will have a reason to celebrate.