So far, not so good. Two games into the crucial run and we’ve drawn at Villa (itself not a bad result) before losing poorly at home to United. According to the press, we’ve gone from genuine contenders to also-rans in the same short period.
Of course, it is never that simple. A win at Stamford Bridge would leave us with four points from three incredibly difficult games, the same as Chelsea despite their corresponding fixtures being Burnley and Hull. Moreover, we would be just three points behind them with by far the easiest run in.
The doubt stems from a general skepticism that we are capable of getting the result we need tomorrow. Some claim victory to be that requirement, but I remained unconvinced. If you offered a draw right now, I’d take it – a six point deficit is retrievable when you consider the remaining fixtures. Liverpool’s visit to the Grove is our last match against the Big Four, while Chelsea still have to go to Anfield and Old Trafford, not to mention playing the rest of the top six. Points will be dropped.
Preparation has been good – Nasri, Bendtner, Walcott and the entire back line have had extra days to recover from a variety of niggles, while Chelsea played an extra game – a hard fought draw at Hull. Wenger will have instilled the importance of the match in the minds of the players, so if we see the sort of lazy running that Denilson displayed last weekend, then serious questions will have to be asked. I suspect they will come out as they did in the second half at Anfield. Let’s hope so.
There are still question marks over Diaby and Bendtner, two individuals closing in onfull fitness. The latter will almost inevitably start on the bench, while the former faces a fitness test later. Either would add a great deal of physical presence, and much needed variety. Bendtner is particularly important, as his presence also frees Arshavin to roam.
The bookies don’t give us a chance, and the odds reflect that – they are either insulting or appealing depending on your point of view. Last season we went into this fixture on comfortably worse form than we are currently displaying, and came away with a 2-1 victory. Sportingbet are offering a remarkable 14/1 on that result being repeated this time around, odds I simply can’t refuse, so that is the bet of the match. They also offer 9/1 on Cesc scoring the opening goal, a feat he has managed in a number of our recent victories. I’m taking that too.
Much has been said in the last few days about the lack of signings, the injuries and the loss to United last weekend. We could reflect on all of that, but what would be the point? If we are knocked out of the race, then we can analyse the mistakes made. Until that day, look forward. Our next three games are Chelsea, Liverpool and Porto – why would you want to concentrate on anything else?
Twenty four hours to go, and it feels like crunch time. I’m looking forward to it – are you?