Speaking at the pre-match press conference ahead of Arsenal’s game against Aston Villa, manager Arsene Wenger expressed his opinion that the Premier League title race will truly start in the New Year (via Arsenal.com). The manager spoke about how fixture congestion led to the top teams sometimes having poor starts to the season, but who would then catch up later on in the season.
This season has been a great example of that so far, as both Chelsea and Manchester City have qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League but have underperformed in England. In contrast, minnows Leicester City sit two points clear at the top of the table. Arsenal have managed to stay near the top of the League, but we have also dropped some easy points and suffered injuries thanks to the pileup of fixtures.
The manager revealed how playing on multiple fronts affected performance, saying, “I think you always see the real trend after Christmas. Of course every year you have a surprising team who is in the top four. Last year it was West Ham, this year it is Leicester. The question is always can they maintain their run. It looks like Leicester are producing the consistency and quality.
“It [fixture congestion] does [affect the Champions League] because for managers, you have the next Premier League game in your mind when you go into Europe sometimes.
“Recently we were not in that position, but at the start of the competition yes, you have in your mind, ‘The next Premier League match is difficult – do I rest one or two?’ Especially in the Europa League, I see that teams do it.”
Recently, Arsenal were not afforded the luxury of resting players if we wanted to qualify for the next round of the Champions League. But in our first couple of games in the group stages, we certainly tried. The results speak for themselves.
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Thankfully, going forward we have only the Premier League to worry about for the next month or so. However, as we enter February the fixtures will start to pile up again, with the Champions League and FA Cup getting underway once more. Hopefully enough of our players will have returned by then so we will be able to cope, but this season has highlighted once more the necessity of having a large squad in the modern game.