Arsene Wenger conceded after the frustrating Southampton stalemate on Tuesday night that their title hopes were stuttering, with local adversaries Tottenham Hotspur climbing above them in the Premier League table.
However, in this topsy-turvy season, even Manchester United – who currently sit ten points behind league leaders Leicester City – cannot be written off, so it is safe to say Arsenal may still go on to clinch their first title since 2003/2004.
Return of Alexis Sanchez and Francis Coquelin
Francis Coquelin limped off 14 minutes into the 2-1 defeat to West Bromwich Albion on November 21, and the Gunners midfield had been bossed in his absence, no matter who the opponents were. Though the results were in their favour during his layoff, the double pivot of Mathieu Flamini and Aaron Ramsey failed to shut down almost everyone whom they faced, most notably Emre Can and Francesc Fabregas.
The former Charlton Athletic loanee will likely start at Dean Court this weekend after returning to action in the fourth round Football Association Cup against Burnley. Alongside Aaron Ramsey – who would then get more liberty going forward – he should be able to propel Arsenal into dominance in the middle of the park again.
Another long-term absentee in Alexis Sanchez also started in the 2-1 defeat of Burnley but, unlike Coquelin, he was handed a start in the Saints clash that followed. Though the London club failed to beat Fraser Forster, the Chilean winger and Mesut Ozil offered consolation with their remarkable link-up play as they combined to create 15 chances (three more from the rest of the squad) – a huge improvement from the team’s eight against Chelsea and six at Britannia Stadium.
Having finally rediscovered their creative acumen, the Gunners can be touted to emulate their early season goal-scoring form.
Hope and handicapped Manchester City
Hoping that Leicester’s fairytale run ends at least before gameweek 38, Manchester City are the only credible title contenders (as Tottenham Hotspur are destined to be in Arsenal’s shadow). The Citizens’ creative department is now on the injury table with Jesus Navas being the latest to their permanently long injury list after limping off in the Sunderland rout.
Kevin de Bruyne who has had a direct hand in 26 goals this season seemed a strong contestant for the POTY award. However, he will not be available for selection until mid-April thanks to his lateral collateral ligament injury.
In addition, Samir Nasri is pencilled in to return only on April 2, thus leaving the title favourites handicapped on the creative front.
Guaranteed 16 points out of possible 18
In the worst case scenario, Arsenal would be sitting fourth behind the current top three by the end of February. Given the unpredictability of this campaign, Arsene Wenger can still steer his men to Premier League glory as he faces somewhat easy sides in March and April.
Emirates Stadium plays host to Watford, Crystal Palace, Norwich City and Aston Villa whilst Arsenal travel to Sunderland, West Ham United and City in the last two months. The men in red and white have comfortably defeated these sides barring the Canaries in the reverse fixtures, notching 2.14 and shipping a meagre 0.58 goals per game.
Furthermore, four of the above-mentioned seven sides are currently languishing in the bottom of the table, and the Community Shield winners will likely win hands down.
Mohamed Elneny clearly offers something different from Mathieu Flamini and Coquelin as it is evident from his display against Sean Dyche’s men that he is strong, positionally intelligent and has an eye for long-range shots. Besides, Arsene Wenger has already made it public that he would be deployed as a box-to-box midfielder.
When operating alongside Coquelin, the Egyptian midfielder will ostensibly augment solidity in the middle and could be a major asset whilst playing offensive sides such as Everton and City.
Though his involvement will likely be limited in the forthcoming weeks, he offers a much-needed alternative plan that could win games without having to play the Arsenal way.