No one said that the road to success was an easy one. There’s no question that this applies to Arsenal as the ‘Gunners’ now embark on a two-month stretch which will see them tested and challenged. In the end it will determine whether or not they can continue to dream of winning the first league title since the 2003-04 title winning season of the ‘Invincibles.’
Arsenal ended January by dropping two crucial points in a 2-2 away draw against Southampton in a game which saw Arsenal potentially play the worst 45 minutes of soccer they had played all season during the first half. And then after having taken a 2-1 lead, they gave up the equalizer a minute later. With that result and Manchester City demolishing North London rivals Tottenham 5-1, Arsenal enter February second in the Premier League standings on 52 points, one behind Manchester City.
Arsenal begin their February/March gauntlet with a league home game against Crystal Palace on Sunday. While on paper this is a game Arsenal should win easily, since Tony Pulis has taken over as manager Crystal Palace has proven to be a tough team to break. Given that Arsenal have shown some struggles against lower table teams at home, this is a game that could prove to be much more challenging than many anticipate.
Following the game against Crystal Palace is when things get real interesting as Arsenal visit Liverpool in a league game on Feb. 8 and then follow it up with a league home again on Feb. 12 against Manchester United. After those two league games, Arsenal host Liverpool on Feb. 16 in an FA Cup 5th Round game as both teams face-off for the second time in a nine-day stretch. Arsenal then jump back into Champions League play on Feb. 19 as they host reigning champions Bayern Munich in the first leg of their respective Round of 16 tie.
Arsenal close the month on Feb. 22 as they host Sunderland in a league game which must feel like a chance for them to catch their breath given who they played against earlier in the month. The following month starts off with a tricky league road game against Stoke City on Mar. 1. Depending on whether or not Arsenal get past Liverpool in their FA Cup 5th Round game will determine if they have FA Cup 6th Round games on the weekend of March 7-9 or they host Swansea City in league play on Mar. 8.
Arsenal then go to Germany to play the second leg of their Champions League Round of 16 tie against Bayern Munich on Mar. 11 and follow it up with a North London Derby league clash against Tottenham at White Heart Lane on Mar. 16. On Saturday, Mar. 22, Arsenal will play another London Derby match as they go to Stamford Bridge to take on Chelsea in the lunchtime game. They close out a grueling two-month stretch on Mar. 29 as they host Manchester City in a game that could decide who goes on to win the league.
As if the schedule ahead wasn’t daunting enough, Arsenal begin the February/March stretch with a number of injuries to midfield players and without reinforcements to help navigate the second half of the season at the time of this writing. All that said, if Arsenal can somehow find a way to survive and come out of the February/March gauntlet still alive and kicking with a chance to win the league, Arsene Wenger and his team will be able to claim success at overcoming this potential last hurdle on their way to finishing atop the Premier League.