The Campbell Diaries
Despite last week's setback, Arsenal remain well in the title hunt. In the lead up to their huge match with Chelsea, today Jim Campbell shares his thoughts and hopes for Arsenal's season ahead.
“Let's see how the table looks at Christmas” is a phrase commonly heard from managers, players, pundits and drunk people at the beginning of any season and it's one that has been applied to Arsenal a lot as we've sat at the top of the table. These words may prove to be dramatically poignant as Christmas is nearly here and if we fail to beat Chelsea at home on Monday then we could slip as far down as fourth.
After defeats to Napoli and Manchester City things are starting to get a little wobbly on Planet Arsenal – which if you're wondering is a joyous place full of friendly, t-shirt cannon wielding dinosaurs – and critics seem to be expecting the team to spontaneously combust and slip out of title contention. Of course the credibility of that title contention has been under scrutiny from the moment we started actually looking good again, so yeah, let's see how things look at Christmas...
The Chelsea match on Monday could be a season-defining one. Win and recent troubles are put to bed, victory showing that this is a side capable of stepping up to the big challenges, a side willing to fight for their position. Lose and the potential slide down the table that follows could be disastrous for confidence. Arsene Wenger has never won a game against Jose Mourinho but even though they've already beaten a strong Arsenal side at the Emirates in the Capital One Cup they look unusually vulnerable. They don't have the air of invincibility they had in his first reign. Perhaps it was all in his suits. A tracksuited Mourinho just seems odd.
Should Arsenal lose, what then? Whether talk of us being genuine title contenders has been realistic or not it has happened. The narrative is there now. The players and staff simply must be thinking about it, however much they say they're not, so what happens if the naysayers predictions of them faltering against their supposed title rivals come true? They simply have to keep going and destroy any negativity.
This is a team that has generally responded well to set backs this season so the focus has to go on continuing to pick up points and winning the return fixtures against Manchester United, City and Chelsea to reset the hierarchy. A title ambition simply cannot be readjusted. The way people dismiss Arsenal it's as if they expect us to lose a few games and stop trying, to book holidays, not turn up and take a few automatic 3-0 losses. As if. That's not the team I see here. They fight, or they face the wrath of Flamini. That should motivate anyone. If you weren't trying hard enough he'd wake you up at 3am by screaming into your face. Screaming about how much of a coward you are. Screaming a list of his least favourite facets of your multifaceted cowardice.
There are going to be trying times up ahead, especially now that we've drawn Spurs in the FA Cup and Bayern Munich in the Champions League, but this is great. For the first time in a long time things don't feel predictable and the slew of tough games just provides more opportunities to see what this new look Arsenal can do.
With the Premier League being as closely matched as it is this season then whoever wins the title is going to have to fight for it and the team look up for it. I believe that there's fight in this team. I believe that this team will pick themselves up and start again with minimum fuss following a setback.
Most importantly I believe in this Arsenal. It's been a long time since I've been able to say that and it's the best Christmas present they could give me. Onward.
If you're looking for betting tips for Arsenal vs Chelsea this Monday, be sure to check our Premier League Betting Tips Board on matchday for all our community's tips for the big match.
Follow Jim on Twitter: @JimCampbellTFR
And listen to Jim each week on The Football Ramble