January: Foundations of a title challenge for Arsenal


Consistency is key. As a football mantra, it explains the extent of what a manager can control, and must master: the belief of his players. For consistency implies the ability to extract what works from what doesn’t. Consistency builds belief BECAUSE when you can recreate a moment of success at will, you understand WHY it works. Correct?

So it’s no surprise that this is exactly what our very own Arséne Wenguru, the footballing guru of gurus, demands from his batch of earnest disciples, as the table-toppers enter what is surely a crucial month.

Consistency creates belief, in turn confidence, ultimately manifesting in what we perceive as form – itself an enigma. Every player has a baseline game. A set of skills that is the crux of their talent and capacity. But above and beyond that? Well…form is where we see the effects of confidence, squad chemistry, fatigue (physical and mental) and motivation amongst individual athletes. These psychological variables to each player’s game is what makes them red hot…or dead cold.

So let me put forward a simple principle here: performances over a set period of time define the success of future performances…

In light of this, our lads in red should be in for a stellar January! The best home and overall form in the division, returns from injuries, coupled with a little splashocash, all point to the inevitable dominance by the lads, right?

Highly unlikely, is this foot-head’s opinion.

Let’s assess our fixture run, shall we? Success at home to Sunderland in the FA Cup is to be followed by two of the toughest away games we’ll play all season, at Liverpool and then Stoke City. All building up to the London Derby against those scummy, overpaid extensions of the Russian mafia who happen to share the city with us – Chelsea. What you should have noticed here by now is that January pits us against a tricky combination of the in-form and the strugglers, each embodying uniquely different strategies to the game, in front of tough tougher TOUGHEST crowds.

One thing’s for certain – it is necessary for Wenguru to mix up his tactical approaches to January’s fixtures. And this is due to the stark difference in forms and styles of each of our opponents.

While Liverpool haven’t mastered the Gegenpress, the side’s heightened intensity relfects Klopp’s strong form in front of the Kop (W-D-W). Stoke City are shattering expectations as effortlessly as Marko Arnautović (a milder Zlatan) and Bojan have shattered the defences of City, United and Chelsea this season. All at the Brittania, mind you. And what of Hiddink’s Blues? Surely they’re on the come-up, comfortably dispatching Crystal Palace last week, with Cescy running riot in the middle of the park…the prick!

So who does Arséne look to, to lead the charge against each opponent? I shall refrain from questioning who will rise to the occasion for Arsenal across January; rather let me ask, which of our own will come under the spotlight this month? No doubt, the specific nature of each game implies that such a responsibility will have to be shared.

Mark Hughes has created a formidable counter-attacking side this seaosn, that characteristically sits deep before launching with the pace of Shaqiri (his hips may lie, but his speed doth not) the guile of Krkić, and the Zlatan-ness of Arnautović. Expect our defensive-midfield options to be tested, with Rambo to hold his own, of course! On to Liverpool: a Gegenpress can only be countered by immense technical ability or potentially a direct approach to football. My prediction? Özil and Giroud to combine, to damage from set-pieces. Saving the worst for last, against Chelsea I expect Bosscielny to be the most significant player on the pitch, alongside Theo. The latter’s defensive work rate and the impeccable timing of his runs into the box could prove too much for JT and the boys in blue.

Wenger has been adamant in his emphasis on a game-by-game approach to his side’s progress. Maybe it’s because he understands the way form works, as a build-up across games. Maybe it’s his way of protecting his squad from the media. Who knows? But while winter form has supremely reigned in favour of the Red and White, the question that’s on every Gooner’s mind is…do we have what it takes to capitalise on it, now that we’re on top?

A relevant query, no doubt. But its basis is too damn far-sighted. What we should be asking about is whether the club should prioritise the FA Cup at all. About the impact of consistently swapping approaches on current form. About the significance of Arsenal’s away form in this whole jambulaya of footballing variables.


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