Poldi First Look + Away Kit Rumors!

We have another supposed Arsenal 2012-13 away kit leak! In my opinion, what’s noteworthy about this leak is not that I think it’s particularly more credible than the previous leaks, but rather that the purported kit is such a radical departure from the conventional Arsenal away kits. Feast your highly-skeptical eyes on this purple monstrosity:

Arsenal 2012-13 away kit? Fingers crossed it’s a fake.

While I cannot vouch for the reality of the above image, I can confirm that Lukas Podolski will play for Arsenal next season. Here’s a first look at him in Arsenal colors (and sporting that newly-officially-released 2012-13 home kit to boot!):

Lukas Podolski (via Arsenal.com)

Chanukah for Football Kit Nerds!

Arsenal 2012-13 Home Kit

It’s the most wonderful time of the football year! No, not Champions League Final time! No, it’s not because the transfer window is about to open again for the summer! Oh yes, it’s new kit debut season!

Okay, so maybe it isn’t the best part of the season, but it does seem quite a bit like Christmas since we get to unwrap a shiny new kit design almost every day. Now that I think about it, I guess in that sense it’s more like Chanukah for football kit nerds. Either way, if you’re a fan of athletic aesthetics (tip of the cap to Paul Lukas and the uni-watch.com team, I love your work) it’s an exciting time.

This week Arsenal officially unveiled their 2012-13 season home kits. I say officially because this design has been floating around out there for a month or more due to leaked photos, but even if it wasn’t a surprise, it’s now officially here. The biggest thing we learned from the official reveal that we didn’t already know is that the collar and the hoops around the sleeves are not, as they had appeared in the leaked photos, black, but are instead navy blue! I’m not sure what the deal is, but even in a lot of the promotional photos of the team wearing the new kit, the hoops look black, but the close-up shots show them for the true navy blue that they are. Personally, I’m glad that the hoops are blue and not black, as if they were black they’d look too much like a Man U kit, and no one wants that.

So yeah, they stayed pretty close to home as they always do with the home kit: red body, white sleeves, no collar. The only changes from the 2011-12 version are as follows: the anniversary crest has been replaced by the normal crest; the ringer around the neck hole has returned, but this time it is navy blue, as opposed to the white that it was in 2010-11; the red stripe running from the shoulder down the top of the sleeve has been removed; the sleeve now features two hoops, one red and one navy blue, the former appearing above the later, with a white space left in between; and on the base of the neck the “Arsenal” has been replaced with an interlocking XX design creating a diamond with the letters “AFC” in the negative spaces.  Other than that, they’re the same as this year’s version. I don’t love the sleeve hoops, but I don’t hate them either. They look better on the players than on the rack, which is usually the case, so in my mind, there’s not too much to complain about.

New alternate Arsenal logo?

My favorite thing that came out of the 2012-13 kit launch, however, was NOT the kit itself, but this new target logo that came out of nowhere. I haven’t heard anything about whether or not the target logo, which looks similar to an London Underground logo, except with a red cannon replacing the red horizontal stripe inside the blue circle, but I think it looks sharp. The logo featured prominently in the kit launch video, and even appears behind the players in certain promotional shots. I, for one, hope it sticks around, but that remains to be seen.

PURPORTED Arsenal 2012-13 Away Kit

There have been plenty of leaks concerning the 2012-13 away kit, but nothing official yet. The supposed away kit is reminiscent of the 2007-08 third kit, featuring broad horizontal stripes. This version features a darker, more burgundy, red alternating with a navy blue. If these really are the change kits, the club may run into some problems when they’re away to other red-dominant sides (you know, like United) as the red and blue horizontal stripes don’t offer much of a visual contrast to their home kits. Here’s hoping that means we see the yellow change kits make a return one way or another. When the change (or possible third) kit becomes official, I’ll comment more then, but for now, all I’ll say is I don’t get it. Okay I’ll say one more thing: it looks like a rugby kit.

My very own 1995-96 away kit design

Since this is a uniform-centric post, I wanted to give another shout out to Paul Lukas and the excellent work he does at uni-watch.com. I really love sports uniforms, so for me, his blog scratches that combined sports and nerd itch I have in just the right spot. I recently became a Uni Watch member, which means I got my own personally designed membership card with custom kit art. The custom kit art just came out, and I couldn’t be more pleased with it, so I’m going to show it off here. My design is based on the 1995-96 Arsenal change kit, dubbed the “blue lightning” design. It was definitely one of Arsenal’s most controversial kits, but I love it, and happen to think it makes the best damn Uni Watch card ever (not that I’m biased or anything)! So, check it out, and check out the rest of the membership gallery, and put Uni Watch in your daily blog reading rotation, I promise you won’t be disappointed.

2011/12 Stan’s Army Premier League Best XI:

It’s that time of year, where awards are given out and everyone comes out with their EPL best XI lists. That being the case, I’m throwing my hat into the ring. The following opinions are my own, and I stand by them, but feel free to tell me I’m wrong if you think so, I can take it. Alright, let’s just get to the list:

Please stay, Robin!

GK: Michel Vorm (Swansea City) – If there was a team tabbed before the season to have a cup of coffee in the Premier League and then go right back down to the Championship after the 2011/12 season, it was Swansea City. This was partially due to the lack of recognizable names on their roster, and partially due to their more free-flowing style, that is harder to maintain given the perceived disparity in talent between the top teams in the EPL and the lesser squads. That has all proven to be horribly wrong, and one major part of that has been the stellar play of Michel Vorm in goal. His 5 Man of the Match performances are tied for most among EPL goalkeepers this season.

RB: Bacary Sagna (Arsenal) – Sagna’s selection is somewhat similar to Terry’s selection (explained below), in that he has shown to be the league’s most valuable right back by his absence. Arsenal’s defense is noticeably more solid with Sagna in the lineup than without. In an admittedly weak class of Premier League right backs, Sagna, to me, was the best in 2011/12.

CB: Vincent Kompany (Manchester City) – He has been the best defender in the Premier League all season, I can’t imagine any argument to keep him off this list.

CB: John Terry (Chelsea) – This is a case of evaluating the player and not the man. John Terry, to me, is a despicable person; that being said, I find it hard to argue that he hasn’t been the most valuable defender in the Premier League this season. Plain and simple, he makes all the difference for Chelsea. When he plays they have a chance against anyone, but when he doesn’t (and please let this come true in the Champion’s League Final) Chelsea are average at best.

LB: Leighton Baines (Everton) – David Moyes deserves a lot of credit for what he has done with Everton this season. To me, they (along with Swansea & Norwich) have been the real feel-good story of the season. Leighton Baines, and specifically his work getting forward and completing crosses, has been a big part of why Everton has succeeded this year.

MF: David Silva (Manchester City) – Let not his late-season dip in form distract from how brilliant he was for most of this season. He leads the highest scoring team in the league (at this point) in assists, and is tied for the overall league lead (at this point) in assists. Add half a dozen goals to that and he’s put together a mighty fine season.

MF: Clint Dempsey (Fulham) – Most seasons this would be a sentimental pick, as I just love Deuce, but this season he has been a man possessed and deserves to be on this list in every way. Deuce has 16 goals for Fulham this season, and may have punched his ticket to play for a big club and in the Champions League next season (that is, if he so chooses).

MF: Juan Mata (Chelsea) – Were it not for Demba Ba, this guy would probably have been the signing of the off-season. In an up-and-down season for the West Londoners, Mata has been the most consistent high-level performer for Chelsea this season.

MF/F: Wayne Rooney (Manchester United) – Inexplicably, Rooney has managed to quietly pile up 26 goals (only one behind RvP at this point) in the league and play some of his best football in years without too many people noticing. Okay, that may be an exaggeration, but I really can’t believe how little attention Rooney has received this year, but I think the next guy on this list had a little something to do with that.

F: Demba Ba (Newcastle) – Coming into the season a lot of pundits tabbed Alan Pardew’s club to battle with relegation, and with only a handful of games left, thanks to a total collapse by Sp*rs,  they’re sitting in position to make the Champions League (assuming Chelsea doesn’t screw them over by winning the whole damn thing this year). Ba was the steal of the off-season, and is the biggest reason Newcastle are the surprise story of the EPL in 2011/12.

F: Robin van Persie (Arsenal) – Simply the best. Better than all the rest. That may be a tired clichéd Tina Turner lyric from the late 80s, but it applies here. Sure, he hasn’t scored from open play in the last 8 games, but no one can deny the brilliant season RvP has put together in 2011-12. Were it not for those two guys going bananas in Spain, he’d be probably be getting hyped as the best player in the world right now, but as long as he stays in North London where he belongs, that’s fine with me.

Spend Stan Kroenke’s Money

It's time to WIN...BEN...STEIN'S...MONEY!

I don’t know how many of you watched late afternoon Comedy Central in the late 90s / early 2000s, but if, like me, you did, I imagine you also fondly remember Win Ben Stein’s Money. I’m not quite sure what it was about that show, maybe it was the mano-a-mano “Best of Ten Test of Knowledge” showdown, maybe it was a young Jimmy Kimmel as the host, or maybe it was just Mr. Stein’s dulcet tones, but that show was undeniably magic.

Among the things today that hold my attention as much as Win Ben Stein’s Money did in my younger years, is transfer talk. I know, I know: it’s all a bunch of speculative hooey, but it’s damn interesting speculative hooey, and I love it despite its lack of objective merit (much like The Real Housewives series – Lisa Vanderpump & Kandi Burruss are my homegirls!). That being the case, let’s lay down some ground rules and get to it.

Now that it looks like Stan Kroenke is out of the bidding for the Los Angeles Dodgers, what is he going to do with all that cash he was about to splash on a baseball team? I bet I can think of one of two little things coughMarioGoetzecough! Oh excuse me; I don’t know what came over me, coughEdenHazardcough! Oh dear, it’s happened again, I’m quite sorry. Now that I’m over that little coughing fit, let’s move forward.

For the purposes of this exercise we have to assume Arsenal will be in the Champions League in 2012/13, because without the Champions League to attract players to the club, and without the extra revenue, all of this is wishful thinking. So, if our baseline is somewhere around £50m that Arsenal has to spend, assuming Champions League revenues, let’s go ahead and figure out how best to spend it.

Lukas Podolski for Germany

Again, for the purposes of this exercise, I’m going to assume that the Podolski transfer is happening, and that the reported £11m transfer fee is his actual price. I honestly do believe this will get done, and while I can’t be sure on the money, it does sound about right to me, given that he is (I believe) going into the last year of his current deal. So, we’ve spent £11m of Stan Kroenke’s money, that still leaves us with about £39m. It’s a good start, but there’s much work to be done.

Jan Vertonghen plays for Belgium

There have also been quite a few stories circulating recently that Ajax’s Jan Vertonghen, who will almost assuredly leave for the Premier League this summer, would prefer Arsenal over City or Sp*rs (and who could blame him?). I’m on record as being 100% for this move, and what’s more, it would set up my dream conspiracy theory scenario, but more on that later. The real reason to spend Kroenke’s money on Vertonghen is that while our central defense may seem crowded with Vermaelen, Mertesacker, and Koscielny already established, YOU CAN NEVER HAVE TOO MUCH DEPTH. That’s my mantra, folks. What separates clubs who challenge for trophies from clubs who only challenge to make the Champions League? The answer is depth. Injuries in football are a given, and the clubs who have players ready to step in and keep the team rolling are the clubs who win silverware. Also, depth is necessary for realistically competing and going far in multiple competitions, and you have to be in the competitions to win them. So, if you’re bringing in Vertonghen, what is his price? I haven’t heard anything solid on that front yet, but I’m going to assume his price will be about £10m. It could be £9m or it could be £11m, but 10 is a nice round number, so let’s go with that.

Eden Hazard also plays for Belgium

With £11m for Podolski and £10m for Vertonghen, that still leaves £29m of Kroenke’s money to spend, and we wouldn’t want it to go to waste, so who else could Arsenal buy? Here’s where my conspiracy theory comes in… If Vertonghen really does sign for Arsenal, you had better believe Jan’s former Ajax and current Belgium teammate Thomas Vermaelen will have had a lot to do with bringing him to Arsenal. Do you see where I’m going yet? You will. So now Arsenal have two Belgium Internationals who are excited to be together, and want nothing more than to create a Belgian pipeline to The Arsenal. You know who else is a Belgium International? That’s right, Lille’s Eden Hazard. He’s young, he’s creative, he’s from the French League, and he’s a perfect candidate to play either on the wing or as a creative midfielder in Wenger’s system, and with two of his buddies from Belgium already at Arsenal, it would be a natural choice. Plus, Hazard’s former Lille teammate Gervinho is also at Arsenal, so between Vermaelen, Vertonghen, and Gervinho, Arsenal should feel like home for Hazard. Sure, City are going to offer him stupid money, but money isn’t everything, and since Hazard would feel more comfortable joining his fellow Belgians & former Ligue 1 teammate to play for The Professor at Arsenal, he just might pick Arsenal over ridiculous piles of cash (let’s call this move the “Anti-Nasri Maneuver”). Hazard won’t come cheap, so let’s just assume it takes most if not all of the remaining £29m to get him from Lille. It’s a lot, but hey, it’s not my money.

Matias Suarez playing for Anderlecht

Since we’re already dreaming, let’s add in one last piece to the puzzle, and in the process, make Arsenal younger and more dangerous on the wings. Tim from 7am Kickoff (@7amkickoff) wrote a fascinating article yesterday about Chu-Young Park’s value going up since his mandatory military service has been deferred until 2022, and how Arsenal could send him to Anderlecht in a swap for Mathias Suarez. If this is even a possibility, I say go for it. Park was only purchased as a backup to van Persie, and with the addition of Podolski, he becomes (if it’s possible) even more obsolete than he is currently. The young Argentinian would fit into Wenger’s system much better than Park does, because of his ability to play the wing or through the middle, so he could see time in the squad where Park has not. Again, YOU CAN’T HAVE TOO MUCH DEPTH. Who knows if it’s a realistic move, but if it is, it would be a major coup to get a young talent like Mathias Suarez out of our £4.5m investment in Park last Summer.

Lastly, I think it’s safe to assume that there will be some exits over the summer as well. I’ve got the likes of Bendtner, Arshavin, Denilson, Almunia, Carlos Vela, Squillaci, and Chamakh all tabbed as possible sales. I know Wenger won’t be able to unload all of these guys, but even if he only sells 4 or 5 of the 7 I listed, and even if he sells them at bargain basement prices (as that’s all they’re worth at this point), surely those sales will make the club another £10m or so, which Arsene can put together with whatever is left after the Hazard deal (if there is anything left) and go buy some 18 year-old kid we’ve never heard of, like he does every summer, and everyone’s happy. Arsene gets his youth investment, the fans get the Summer spending spree that they’ve always dreamed of, Stan and the Board get the fans off their backs for never spending, and Arsenal is picked pre-season as a serious contender for silverware. Win-win-win.

I know this won’t all happen, but I do think it is at least fiscally possible. I know Arsenal never spends this way, but just imagine if they did. I don’t expect the purse strings to finally loosen up this Summer, but let this article serve as an argument for what could happen if they did. Seriously, just look at the team Arsenal could put on the pitch in 2012/13 just by playing Spend Stan Kroenke’s Money:

GK: Szczesny, Fabianski

DEF: Sagna, Jenkinson, Vermaelen, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Vertonghen, Gibbs, Santos, Djourou, Miquel

MIDS: Wilshere, Song, Hazard, Rosicky, Arteta, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Diaby, Ramsey, Frimpong, Coquelin

WINGS: Walcott, Gervinho, Hazard, Podolski, M. Suarez, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ryo

ST: van Persie, Podolski

That team is deep and scary at every position, and a legitimate title contender. In theory, it could happen. It won’t, but it could.

Continue to Pray For Muamba, that man is a fighter and an inspiration.

“It’s done.” – Arshavin exits Arsenal for Zenit loan

1/24/2012

So now that it appears official that Andrei Arshavin has left Arsenal to go on loan with Zenit for the remainder of the season (the Russian confirmed as much via his twitter account – @AndrArshavin23 – by saying simply “It’s done.” just after the Russian transfer deadline had passed), let’s take a quick moment to reflect on all the wild and varied reactions that have come out as this news broke today. As I see it, there are basically three camps:

(1) Those that like Arshavin, and see him as getting a bad rap or as a scapegoat for the squad’s underperformance over the past two seasons, and accordingly are none-too-thrilled with the decision to let him leave for the remainder of the season. Let’s call these folks “Arshavin Apologists,” shall we?

(2) Those who think Arshavin is nothing but a lazy, overrated, worthless pile of dung, and who cheer his exit as a prototypical case of addition-by-subtraction.  Let’s call this lot the “Anti-Arshavin Association” or “AAA” for short.

(3) Those more in the middle, who see Arshavin for both his many flaws, but are also able to appreciate the moments of brilliance and explosive potential that he brought to Arsenal when he was in form. They speak not in emotional terms about their love for Andrei, or how he has harmed them personally and emotionally, but rather think about the implications of the move to the club as it is. Let’s call this last group the “Realists” (and yes, you can basically tell which camp I fall in just by reading the monikers I have given to each of the three respective groups).

As it is already obvious that I count myself in the later group, let me just cut to the chase and explain why I’m a Realist, and not an Arshavin Apologist or a AAA member. I am bothered by this turn of events, but not because of the player Arshavin has been for Arsenal, but rather because of the timing and my inability to reason out why things have transpired as they have. Aside from delivering a splendid cross for Thierry Henry to put home to beat Sunderland a couple of weekends ago, Arshavin hasn’t brought much to the table this season for Arsenal. He has been relegated largely to substituted duty, and even those appearances have been dwindling since the first of the year. I have heard suggestions that either his teammates or the coaching staff, or both, have grown tired of his play. I don’t know if any of that is true, but if that is the case I understand wanting to get rid of him, but why like this? If Arsenal was going to dump him just to be rid of him, the time was during the January window, so there would at least be the possibility of reinvesting the £1 million they received from Zenit for him in the club this season. If the money can’t be spent to bring someone in to help the club this season, then why ship him away now?

All that is accomplished by loaning Arshavin out at this point, after the transfer window in England has closed, is to be rid of his presence, and to have one less option should further injuries befall the club in the last three months of the season. I know he hasn’t been great, hell I know he hasn’t been much of anything, but he’s at least got the potential to be something, and I’d rather have the potential of something than nothing when it comes down to it. Arsenal are out of all competitions except the Premier League, so they won’t play much more than once a week from here on out, so I get that the need for a fourth-favorite winger isn’t great the rest of the way, but this should be all hands on deck time at The Emirates. Even if you don’t think you’ll ever use him in the best-case scenario, isn’t it better to have Arshavin around just in case, especially when the team is clinging to 4th place and a Champions League spot by a thread?

I’ve really only heard one valid explanation as to why loaning Arshavin out now makes sense, and it’s this: either (a) Zenit plan to make the move permanent at the end of the season, or (b) even if that’s not the case, he will at least be playing for Zenit regularly, and as such has a chance to up his value before his inevitable permanent transfer in the summer. This rationale makes sense to me; I still think it’s a little risky, but at least it makes sense. Arsenal knows Arshavin will be gone, and this is his best chance to make the club more money when he leaves. It’s a calculated risk.

I guess I’m just more concerned about doing everything possible to hang on to 4th place, so I’m a little more risk-averse right now, which is why I’d prefer Arsenal keep Arshavin and dump him over the summer. If Arshavin flounders in Mother Russia and some combination of Walcott, Gervinho, and Oxlade-Chamberlain go down to injury, and Arsenal doesn’t qualify for the Champions League, the handling of Arshavin will be pointed to by those calling for Wenger’s head. Of course if Arshavin shows a spark with Zenit, and Arsenal finish 4th without him, Wenger looks like a genius. Wenger is putting his chips on the table with this move, we just have to wait until the end of the season to see if he’s got the nuts.

How far have Arsenal’s standards actually fallen?

2/15/2012

A friend of mine, who is a Barcelona fan (there are worse things he could be, I guess), recently brought to my attention this article Ben Blackmore wrote for ESPN.com about the declining standards at Arsenal. What I wrote in the email response to my friend ended up almost reading like a blog post, so I’ve made it into one.

For reference, here’s a link to the Blackmore article, titled “Arsenal standards reach dangerous low”: http://soccernet.espn.go.com/feature/_/id/1022668/blackmore:-arsenal-dropping-standards-to-dangerously-low-levels-?cc=5901

Also, for reference, his general point is that the quality of players Arsenal have now has dropped drastically from the last time they won trophies, and that the only players currently on the squad that have the quality to wear the shirt are van Persie, Wilshere, and Vermaelen. That’s the extreme CliffsNotes version at least, read the whole article for more; it’s a little off, but the thrust of it is on target.

Like a lot of people who probably have only watched a handful of Arsenal matches this year, Blackmore has some misconceptions based on things he’s heard but not observed himself (Full disclosure: that’s an assumption I’ve made. I have no idea how many Arsenal matches Blackmore has actually watched this season). I think the overall point is well taken, that the level of quality on this year’s squad is significantly lower than it was last year, and depressingly lower than it was back in the early-to-mid 2000s. That being said, he’s got some things wrong.

Blackmore points out Djourou and Jenkinson as not being good enough to be on the pitch. While I agree with this, they are easy targets. Djourou is his better point, because Jenkinson wouldn’t have sniffed the pitch other than in Carling Cup matches, were it not for injury. So yes, they shouldn’t be out there playing first team football for Arsenal, but if you think about the defense last year as compared to now, it’s not so dire. I wrote a blog about this previously, but just as a short recap: Djourou was actually considered one of our better defenders until he got hurt in that game at Old Trafford last season.

I totally disagree with Blackmore on Mertesacker and Koscielny, and actually (a bit) on Vermaelen too. I think all three of them are leaps-and-bounds ahead of our central defenders last year (which included a very lost-looking Koscielny in his first year in the Prem, and featured the likes of Squillaci and almost no time from Vermaelen). As they are playing now, however, I’ll take all three of them (TV5, Kos, & Per) over, let’s say, Gary Cahill and a whole host of others out there playing central defense in the Prem. Actually, I think Vermaelen (though I love him) has been the worst of the three as of late, and Koscielny has been the best. Sure they get beat sometimes, but what defender never gets beat? In sum, I don’t think central defense is the problem with this Arsenal team.

The other real problem is depth, as we’ve seen. A couple of guys go down, and we’re screwed. You only need to look at the full back situation to understand how that works. See earlier point re: how Jenkinson has been pressed into action too soon. In the article, Blackmore mentions Clichy in the same breath as Cesc & Nasri in speaking of the quality that left in the summer… So yeah, he’s totally overrated Clichy as a player, but whatever. Gibbs and Santos aren’t great (Gibbs looked especially lost against Milan), but they’re not that much of a step down from Clichy, if any as compared to his declining form last season. Blackmore also rips Sagna, who I will defend. Bac is great, but he’s just got back from injury, so playing on that abomination of a pitch at San Siro didn’t suit him. That he didn’t look great yesterday was no shock, but that performance shouldn’t be taken to be representative of his quality.

As for the rest of the squad, I’ll defend Alex Song by saying this: I bet you can’t name five clubs in the whole of Europe that wouldn’t take him, and start him, as a holding midfielder. Challenge issued, take it if you wish. That is all.

As for the rest, Arteta and Ramsey are no Cesc & Nasri. They can’t even lick their boots, and on a team like Arsenal they should probably be complimentary players. Arteta especially has done well to stabilize the club since coming on, but he and Ramsey should be fill-ins and substitutes for an Arsenal squad. So yes, Blackmore has that part right.

He makes a weird move in talking about the wing play, and focuses on Walcott & Arshavin. The little Russian hardly plays for Arsenal right now, so I’m not sure why he’s even mentioned in the article. Blackmore should be talking about Walcott, Gervinho, and Oxlade-Chamberlain if he really wants to get it right. That being said, let’s talk about them: The Ox is young, and I think every other team in the Prem wishes they had him, so there’s that. As for the other two, they’re too inconsistent, and frustratingly so. Gervinho, despite not being able to finish since he got here, is probably better overall, but they could certainly both be upgraded. They’re not awful though, in my view the problem is greater in the midfield.

In sum, Wenger has to buy distributing midfielders with creativity, wingers who don’t disappear, and a decent backup for van Persie (everyone agrees that Chamakh has lost whatever magic he had when he first arrived, and I assume there’s a reason Wenger won’t play Park, but no one can tell what since he never even sniffs the pitch). None of that is at all groundbreaking, but at least it provided a vehicle to assess the team heading into the final stretch of the season. It will be imperative for Arsene to hold on to what he’s got (and add more quality to it in the off season. Arsenal cannot afford to lose more talent, as it’s already behind on replacing what they lost last summer, but we all knew that already. Doesn’t make it any less important though.

Arsenal Faces Make or Break Month

2/11/2012 - Thierry Henry celebrates his later winner against Sunderland (Michael Regan / Getty Images)

It’s a horrible cliché to say that that any one stretch of matches is the most important of the season, especially when there are so many games remaining, but the way the schedule is laid out, I honestly believe that the next month will decide Arsenal’s fate this season.

Let’s take a look at what lies ahead. In the next 30 days, Arsenal have the following fixtures:

February 15 – Away to AC Milan (Champions League Round of 16)

February 18 – Away to Sunderland (FA Cup 5th round)

February 26 – Spurs at Home

March 3 – Away to Liverpool

March 6 – AC Milan at Home (Champions League Round of 16)

March 12 – Newcastle at Home

When the next 30 days have concluded, Arsenal could be still alive in two trophy competitions, and putting a little distance between themselves and the other contenders for 4th place in the Premier League, OR they could be out of everything except the Premier League, and could be looking up at as many as 6 clubs in the table, or, of course, they could be (as is more likely) somewhere in between. Every one of Arsenal’s next 6 matches is of great importance, as even their Premier League schedule includes two of Arsenal’s three main rivals for the 4th spot, oh and some other team from North London too.

Henry will soon be gone, back to New York, but Gervinho will be back (and hopefully without any mental or physical hangover from the ACN), as will Chamakh (of course, whether or not the return of the latter matters at all is a completely separate issue). Even though Mertesacker just picked up an injury at the weekend, it’s good to see Sagna back in the squad, and once Gibbs returns Arsenal will be able to field a squad that includes two center backs and two actual full backs for the first time in over a month. Though the return of Wilshere before season’s end may still be a pipe dream, the squad is nonetheless getting healthier overall, with Jenkinson and Diaby scheduled to return soon. Injuries seem to always be a story for Arsenal, but if Arsenal are to keep their run of Champions League appearances in tact, they have to be able to put injuries aside and get results with the players on the pitch.

It’s no excuses time for this Arsenal club. I don’t expect them to win all of their next 6 matches, but I do not think it unrealistic to expect them to move on in one of either the FA Cup or the Champions League, and to also keep hold of their current 4th position in the table. Let’s be honest, Sp*rs have a hell of a team this season, and are in great form, but Arsenal have them at The Emirates, and it’s not too much to ask for them to scrape a draw. In my view, the most important games will be away to Liverpool and Newcastle at home. Both are very winnable games, and honestly if Arsenal expect to finish the season in the top 4, they have to get 6 or 7 points out of their next three Premier League fixtures. All that’s left now is for Arsenal to go out and get the results they need. They face stiff competition, but if Arsenal want to continue to compete on a level with other top European clubs, and want to hang on to their best players, they have to go out there and win games over crucial stretches like the next month. No excuses.