Well, December sure was interesting.
We knew the fixture congestion was going to invite lineup rotation. And a trip to top side Liverpool was always going to be tough made even more so by some players’ unavailability.
But January begins with Arsenal just slightly outside the top four with Chelsea coming to the Emirates mid-month. Should we put together the expected performances and perhaps ride a wave of fortune against the Blues, we could find ourselves in somewhat comfortable standing heading into February when the Europa kicks up again.
(Note: Since I’m a bit late with this, the standings and form would reflect this as of New Year’s Eve. It is also very important that I get this accurately because there is nowhere else on the internet you could get the current table or form for these teams. This is the only place for that.)
(Note: Apparently, you can get the current table and form for several sports franchises on the internet. I have just been instructed that there is a site google.com that can help you find it.)
v. Fulham - Tuesday, December 1 (PL)
Current position and record: 19th, 3-5-12 (30 points)
Previous meeting: Arsenal 5, Fulham 1
Current form in all competitions: W-D-D-L-L
This one could be interesting. Fulham have an interesting attack that could threaten our shaky defense, but their backline is even worse.
I’ll go with Arsenal winning 4-1 with goals from Laca, Aubameyang and Ramsey. And who knows, maybe even Granit Xhaka. Let’s get crazy.
@ Blackpool - Saturday, January 5 (FA)
Current position and record (League One): 10th, 9-8-8 (35 points)
Previous meeting: Arsenal 2, Blackpool 1
Current form in all competitions: L-D-L-L-W
Arsenal played Blackpool in the Carabao Cup in October. Prior to that matchup, it had been seven years since we had linked up.
Even our last meeting though was unique with Emile Smith-Rowe, Danny Welbeck, Carl Jenkinson and Juan Pleguezuelo starting as Matteo Guendouzi picked up a red card on a second yellow.
Now in the thick of a top four challenge, Arsenal have to be careful with the balance of managing fixtures while treating the FA Cup with the kind of reverence it historically deserves.
I would note that in that Carabao tie against Blackpool, Unai Emery cycled in Lucas Torreira, Alex Iwobi and Aubameyang as substitutes. With a lead not needing a goal. In the Carabao Cup. In October.
So who knows. Maybe we’ll see something closer to a top eleven. Or even a Mesut Özil sighting. Anything’s possible, I suppose.
@ West Ham United - Saturday, January 12 (PL)
Current position and record: 10th, 8-3-9 (28 points)
Previous meeting: Arsenal 3, West Ham 1
Current form in all competitions: L-W-L-W-W
Suffice to say, there should be goals here. For both sides.
West Ham have a solid attack with Felipe Anderson, Marko Arnautovic and Chicharito, but they’ve also surrendered 32 goals, one goal more than Arsenal have allowed.
So 4-2 to the good guys?
v. Chelsea - Saturday, January 19 (PL)
Current position and record: 4th, 13-4-3 (43 points)
Previous meeting: Arsenal 2, Chelsea 3
Current form in all competitions: W-W-L-W-W
And this is the match of the month. A wavy Chelsea side comes to the Emirates likely with 4th place on the line. Plenty of rest to be had this month for Arsenal; Chelsea have an extra pair of matches against Tottenham in the Carabao spaced out this month.
This perhaps is a marker for Emery. Having gotten through the congestion of December, this is a game where Arsenal need to play their best lineup. With Héctor Bellerín, Nacho Monreal and Özil all likely back, how Emery decides to field his best side will be of sincere note. Will Özil or Aaron Ramsey feature at kickoff? The likely answer as of right now is probably no though we’ll have to see. To have either on the bench for a game of this magnitude at home would be...a thing.
And perhaps there’s an asterisk here to be placed for the transfer window. A year ago, Arsenal added Aubameyang, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Konstantinos Mavropanos in the January window. Perhaps a new signing arrives before this game that could affect things. Chelsea have already made the headline transfer for American wunderkind Christian Pulisic, though he’ll remain with Dortmund on loan for the rest of the season.
But for a light month for fixtures that is spaced out well enough, this one should demand Arsenal at their best.
v. Cardiff City - Tuesday, January 29 (PL)
Current position and record: 16th, 5-3-12 (18 points)
Previous meeting: Arsenal 3, Cardiff 2
Current form in all competitions: W-D-L-L-W
Things have looked much brighter for Cardiff since getting on the other side of Halloween, arbitrary as that marker might be.
Through October, the Bluebirds were 1-2-7 and looking like one of the strongest relegation candidates. Since though, they’re 4-1-5 and have pulled themselves out of the relegation zone looking much improved.
What might be worth tracking is the availability of midfielder Víctor Camarasa. The Spaniard has been in fine form of late but had to come off against Tottenham this week (WHICH IS STILL IN THE FUTURE BECAUSE I AM DEFINITELY WRITING THIS IN 2018) with an injury. Not only that, but there have been rumors that being on loan that he might be recalled back to Real Betis as Los Verdiblancos are currently in sixth place in the table and looking to remain in European competition in 2019/20 (they’ve got Rennes in the knockout stage of the Europa League while we’re playing BATE Borisov).
That all being said, this shouldn’t be a daunting task of any measure. The 0-3 loss to Tottenham (FUTURE) followed a 1-5 pasting from a Mourinho-freed Man U. Suffice to say, the Cardiff defense is no reason for Arsenal not to score at least a trio. Could this one match the 3-2 scoreline from September? Perhaps. But this is one the Arsenal attack should take over.
Last month, we were busy. This month, less so. February? Back into the fray.
The Europa League kicks back off and, should Arsenal deal with Blackpool, another FA Cup matchup in the Fourth Round Proper looms. Carabao careabouts are now, thankfully, a thing of the past, but throw in a trip to the Etihad to take on Manchester City, and February will be pivotal whereas January looks less so.
And perhaps that’s the point. This is a month for business to be handled. For order and organization. Depending on what happens on the 19th against Chelsea and some surrounding results from others, Arsenal could go into February in the top four.
Here’s to starting off 2019 in promising fashion.