Building a Premier League schedule - you'd think it'd be boring, or anticlimactic. After all, it's not like baseball, where you play within your division 19 times, and you play a certain number of times against a specified division, and a certain number of interleague games, etc. Nope, soccer's easy (at least non-MLS soccer) - 38 games, each team plays each other team once, home and away, everyone has their own stadium so there's no scheduling conflicts - that's it. Pretty straightforward, right?
Not so much. As this article lays out, there's a whole bunch of things that the fixture creators have to account for - paired teams (like Manchester United and Manchester City) not playing at home on the same day, no team playing too many consecutive home or away games, etc. So it's a lot of work to create a fixture list, and while you know who is going to be on it, you don't know the order in which the games will be played until the list is released. The 2013/14 fixtures were released today, so let's take a look, shall we? The complete league-wide list is here, but since I don't really care about any team that isn't Arsenal, I'm going to look solely at what Arsenal's season looks like.
Arsenal start the season at home, against Aston Villa, so that's not the most daunting of opening fixtures. A tricky little away trip to Craven Cottage is next, and then the water boils in a hurry - the home leg of the North London Derby is the very next weekend, August 31. The scale of it's not quite the same, really, but MLS did a similar thing this season, putting the first of three Timbers/Sounders matches in the third week of the season, and it really kinda threw me off.
It's too early in the season for such a big game, and both teams and fans won't really have their sea legs yet - I'm glad it's at home, but I wish that game were a bit later in the season. The other tricky bit about that NLD is that it comes right after the second leg of Arsenal's Champions League qualifier, which is a nice problem to have but still a bit of fixture congestion that doesn't help that early in the season.
In other fixtures of interest, Arsenal's first visit to the David Moyes-era Old Trafford is November 9; the rest of November is fairly lightweight, with league games against Southampton and Cardiff surrounded by Champions League fixtures (assuming Arsenal win their playoff).
December, now, that's a busy month. In rapid succession, Arsenal face Manchester City away, Chelsea at home, West Ham on Boxing Day, and Newcastle at St. James' two days later. December also has Everton and Hull City in it, and if Arsenal don't watch themselves that could be a tricky little stretch of games.
You know the old saying "March comes in like a lamb, and goes out like a lion"? That's Arsenal's March - the lamb is a bit rabid and foaming at the mouth, in the shape of Stoke City, and then it's a home game against Swansea before the lion shows up - PBFC away, Chelsea away, Manchester City at home. If the league's still fairly up for grabs by March, that stretch will do a lot to define who will finish with a shiny bit of tin around their necks in May.
For the second straight year, though, Arsenal have a fairly easy run-in; after that mess in March, April's biggest test is probably Everton (with the added bonus of FA Cup and CL games, hopefully), and with the final two games in May being WBA and Norwich, things set themselves up nicely for Arsenal to finish strong if they've put away enough points before spring.
I'm not foolish enough to make league finishing predictions based on a fixture list, but if Arsenal can correct the mistakes that led them to lose a bunch of winnable games last year, I like what I see here - the fixture list is definitely Arsenal's friend for most of the season.