Last night Arsenal hammered Porto 5-0 at the Emirates to book their place in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. This win comes in the middle of yet another week in which many football writers have been assessing the Gunners' credentials for the Premiership run in. they are currently in 3rd place tied on 61 points with Chelsea (who do have a game-in-hand) and only two points behind leaders Manchester United. The question still remains though, do Arsene Wenger's side have it in them to take the league crown for the first time in six years?
Despite the fact that Arsenal may find themselves right in the running with only nine more fixtures left in this season's campaign I still do not believe that they will be able to cross the finish line first, or second for that matter. The only reason that they find themselves in such a promising position is because of the short comings of the two teams in front of them. Both Manchester United and Chelsea have been dropping points with unusual frequency. Arsenal have been beaten in both the home and away matches against the top two and yet, because of the slip-ups by these teams, they are still in contention.
Wenger's side are an extremely mercurial team. Last night's performance against Porto once again showed the class that the squad possesses, a class that watchers of the Premiership are all too aware of. It is their inability to perform at this level week-in-week-out that has plagued the club this year. It is for this reason that I would not be backing Arsenal's chances of finishing top at odds, even at around 2/1.
Their next four games are pivotal. They have an ideal run of games at this vital stage of the season as they prepare to face Hull, West Ham, Birmingham and then Wolves. There may be no easy matches in the Premiership but these are certainly some of the easiest. These are, however, the sort of teams that the North Londoners have typically struggled against. Teams that shut-up shop against Arsenal and play in an intimidating fashion have a well-known recipe for success, it is the teams that play more open football that will leave themselves open for Arsenal's total football approach to take full effect.
I do not believe that the squad has all the pieces yet to challenge at the business end of the campaign. The side lacks leaders and strong characters, so much so it is a wonder that they have done as well as they have thus far. No one will doubt the quality of their players, only their ability to grind out ugly victories and deal with the physical approach many take against them. With Van Persie, Fabregas and Gallas all struggling with injuries the teams lacks experienced heads and I believe this will show. They are too liable to drop points at the crucial moments between now and the end of the season, as they have been doing so often in the last few years.
Arsenal play an attractive brand of football and as such there are few who would begrudge them breaking the strangle hold that Chelsea and Manchester United have had on the Premiership of late. The performances of the Gunners so far this season, however, would indicate that the team is still not fully equipped to deal with the challenges the next three months will inevitably pose, the loses to the top two highlighted this fragility. They are fortunate that blips by their title contenders have allowed them to remain in the running this late on. In my opinion Wenger's young side must still to mature to meet the standards, mainly mentally, required to win the League.
Arsenal, it would appear though, are not very far away from being able to take that final step to reach the high benchmark that Manchester United and Chelsea have been setting for the last five years or so. The experience of one or two more campaigns, and a few wise signings, and Arsenal could have their name back of the Premiership trophy, but I strongly doubt it will be this year!
Thoughts, comments and opinions please...