Well past the middle of a fantastic season, injuries, referees, lack of new toys, journos and incessant spray of vitriol notwithstanding, we are where we are. One point off the Top of the League, fighting on in the FA Cup and the Champions League, it is fair to say that we will not swap our place with any other club in the world. We are well into Rocky’s Death Cluster 1, where everyone other than diehard Arsenal fans expect our demise, more in envy and hope than in expectation. On the road recently, we met a strong Southampton side and the scintillating Scousers. Truth be said, it was not pretty, but we have survived.
But substantial challenges remain. Now we have a series of tough games at home The Home of Football. First, Manchester United visit on Wednesday 12 February for a crucial Premier League clash. It seems Boris ‘taking chum up the Arsenal’ Johnson and Millwall-supporter Bob Crow have cleverly constructed a situation where the Emirates will be populated mainly by the Gooners, with only a handful of goons from the shady North West managing to travel to London to support the (Old) Toilet cleaners. Thank you both. Next, Liverpool step into the lion’s den on Sunday 16 February, fresh from their Arsenal bashing big grins, for a sombre FA Cup tie. Bayern Munich, the Champions of Europe arrive for a key Champions League encounter on Wednesday 19 February. The visit by Sunderland on Saturday 22 February completes a gruelling 4-games-in-11-days killer series at home in the Emirates.
Tough times indeed. But, when the going gets tough, the tough gets going. So, perhaps a natural question to ask is: what chances do we stand at home? Or, how much of a fortress is The Home of Football? A priori, it does not look bad at all. First, there is the familiarity with the ground. At least, there is the seemingly zero likelihood of reaching the game late. Please don’t laugh, such things do happen, as we all know very well. Second, there is the opportunity to match the opposition in terms of players on the pitch. Surely, the vocal home support singing “1-0 to the Arsenal” and North Bank will match up against whatever stupidity the numpty officials can furnish by way of entertainment.
Third, and most importantly, the home record of late has been superb. It is perhaps fair to say that, probably for the first time this season the new team seems to be comfortable in their newish home. In fact, the record at home this season looks formidable. Here is a list of home games this season, excluding the Mickey Mouse Cup game against Chelsea.
Arsenal 2-0 Crystal Palace Sun 2 Feb
Arsenal 4-0 Coventry Fri 24 Jan
Arsenal 2-0 Fulham Sat 18 Jan
Arsenal 2-0 Tottenham Sat 4 Jan
Arsenal 2-0 Cardiff Wed 1 Jan
Arsenal 0-0 Chelsea Mon 23 Dec
Arsenal 1-1 Everton Sun 8 Dec
Arsenal 2-0 Hull Wed 4 Dec
Arsenal 2-0 Marseille Tue 26 Nov
Arsenal 2-0 Southampton Sat 23 Nov
Arsenal 2-0 Liverpool Sat 2 Nov
Arsenal 1-2 Borussia Dortmund Tue 22 Oct
Arsenal 4-1 Norwich Sat 19 Oct
Arsenal 2-0 Napoli Tue 1 Oct
Arsenal 3-1 Stoke Sun 22 Sep
Arsenal 1-0 Tottenham Sun 1 Sep
Arsenal 2-0 Fenerbahce Tue 27 Aug
Arsenal 1-3 Aston Villa Sat 17 Aug
14 wins out of 18. There were 2 draws, against Chelsea and Everton. And there were 2 losses as well, against Dortmund in the Champions League and an opening day blooper against Villa. Only 8 goals conceded at home, and this includes the 3 shocking goals conceded on the opening day. No goals were conceded in the 6 games since the Deulofeu goal at the death against Everton on December 6. 4 points were dropped against Chelsea and Everton, both strong teams, and these were in a run of poor results in December. That, and the opening day Villa game apart, quite formidable.
Let us briefly revisit what happened against Chelsea and Everton. Against Everton, Ozil gave us a late lead, which was cancelled by a Deulofeu wonder strike 6 minutes from the end. A fantastic effort from Giroud in injury-time could have sealed the points, but the bar came in the way. Post-match, Arsene said: “We didn’t take our chances very well and the other regret is that we gave the lead away with seven minutes to go. But credit to them, they always looked dangerous. In the end, we are disappointed to get caught but it’s still a point.”
Whereas Everton played a good open game, Chelsea just parked the bus. Aided by poor decisions from Mike Dean, a dreadful stalemate ensued, with the fans singing “Boring boring Chelsea”. Clear penalties and red cards were not shown. Later, Maureen complained against ‘foreign cry babies’. Wenger said Arsenal deserved to score but “couldn’t”, and that a foul on Theo should have seen a penalty given. Any way, that is life.
So, what do we learn about our likely performance at home in the next few games. First, we will defend well. Second, the quality of officiating may be poor. Mark Clattenburg is the referee against Manchester United. However, whatever happens, we can rely on the home fans to provide vocal support to the good guys. Third, we need to take our chances. But overall, surely the signs are good for the upcoming home fixtures.
Indeed, our home record is fantastic, and it looks even better when compared against our main title rivals Chelsea and Manchester City. Chelsea drew at home to West Ham on 29 January and to West Brom on 9 November. It would therefore seem likely that Chelsea may drop further points at home to the smaller clubs. Manchester City have been formidable at home. But they lost to Chelsea on 3 February and to Bayern Munich on 2 October.
Bottomline: So far so good. But long way to go, plenty to fight for. Big effort is required, and the good guys will provide this with big heart. Onwards and Upwards!
“The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”
Written by arnie