Rather than feel the weight of a title challenge on their shoulders tomorrow, Arsenal should see their game at Chelsea as a chance to close the gap, defy the odds and reignite their league hopes.
All the odds are stacked against Arsene Wenger making his 1,000th Arsenal match a win. Jose Mourinho has never lost at Stamford Bridge, Wenger has never beaten a Mourinho side. Arsenal have struggled against the big teams in the last couple of seasons, Chelsea have flourished against them. One could say it’s sad.
In a way, it’s also sad that Wenger’s 1,000th game will be against Mourinho, a man who, just a month ago, described Wenger as a specialist in failure. It wouldn’t be that unlikely for a few of the tabloids to run with that narrative should Arsenal inevitably slip up against Chelsea. Even if not directly quoiting there’ll certainly be a feeling that Arsenal will have failed if they lose. In a sense, it will be partially right. One could argue this is almost a must win for Arsenal, who are behind the front runners from down south. If they lose it’s likely their title push will be pretty much over.
But from a different perspective they’ve got nothing to lose. They’ve never been favourites for the league title, neither with the bookies or mainstream pundits. Despite what Mourinho says, Chelsea most certainly have been at stages and have mostly been more likely than Arsenal in the opinions of those we hear about. In a sense, the pressure is on them. People aren’t expecting Arsenal to win, just like they don’t expect them to win the league.
For Arsenal the majority of their trophy hopes are in the FA Cup basket as recent results away at Southampton, Liverpool and Stoke have stalled their league challenge. Contrary to some popular opinion it won’t be a disaster if Arsenal don’t win the league. They’ve shown enough this season that winning them Premier League might not be that far away when just a year ago it looked a long way off. No matter how you angle it this season has certainly seen improvements, and they’ve been slightly unlucky with the players they lost through injuries at certain times. The season could very well finish with the same league position as last year, exiting the Champions League at the same stage and going trophyless again. But even if it does the improvement has been there, and that’s the most important thing in the long run. It’s not that unfeasible to think they can mount a stronger title challenge next year. Bacary Sanga is the only player who may not be around next year – simply retaining most of their key players is a wonderful feeling for Arsenal in the last decade – and most of the squad will have the chance to improve. They will likely come back a better side next season.
With that in mind, Arsenal would do well to go into tomorrow’s game with great optimism and hope. If they lose, then it won’t be a major disaster; they can focus on the FA Cup and come back next season. But if they win they’re right in it, and will be until the very end. As they’re a side behind the pace setters, these games should be relished. Simply winning every week against cannon fodder is useless if Chelsea and City do it too. What Arsenal have is a chance to gain points on their rivals, and that should be seen as a positive. Many will say Arsenal’s season hinges on a early kick off at Stamford Bridge. It doesn’t, but Arsenal should be happy they have the chance to play there rather than a home game against Fulham.
Arsenal probably won’t beat Chelsea, in fact they’ll probably lose, but that doesn’t mean they’ve failed. They just won’t have achieved an unlikely success that most of the media thought beyond them anyway. Surely, given his comments about a little horse, even Mourinho can understand that logic.