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    OPINION: Arsenal must take golden chance to win the league

    by Dominic Booth

    The time is now, Arsène. The Arsenal manager claims up to eight teams could still win the Premier League, while a points tally of 78 may be enough to lift English football’s biggest prize. But in truth the Frenchman must recognise that his team are perfectly placed to pounce.

    Years have gone by. Years in which a stadium rebuild and tight pursestrings at The Emirates have stunted the Gunners’ progress. Big names have been sold: Robin Van Persie relinquished to top dogs Manchester United, Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy gifted to big spenders Manchester City, and Cesc Fabregas sold to Barcelona before switching to big London rivals Chelsea. In the mean time, Arsenal have clung onto their place in English football’s elite group, often needed a final day decider to secure fourth, or a European battle to be considered one of the top 16 clubs in the continent.

    Wenger knows Arsenal have a great chance.

    Now is different. Now they must pursue domination.

    “It is because of the quality and the intensity of the competition and the improvement of other teams,” Wenger said of the open title race this season.. He said six to eight could claim top spot in May. But with the stranglehold of United, City and Chelsea broken, Wenger must know his time is now.

    Leicester City deserve enormous credit for their incredible consistency so far this season, but they will surely find the exhilarating pace of the Christmas period and the spring run-in, too much to take. Jamie Vardy is not Alexis Sanchez. Riyadh Mahrez is not Mesut Ozil. Kasper Schmeichel is not Petr Cech.

    Tottenham are surely too young and too raw to challenge for a trophy, though they may break into the top four. United are flawed, bereft of goals and goalmakers and under searing pressure for their insipid displays. Liverpool are new, evolving, unready. Chelsea, well, they are just a long way behind. For the title to stay at Stamford Bridge, it would take a miracle even José Mourinho cannot conjure.

    Many will argue Manchester City’s bank of multi-million-pound stars are the clear frontrunners for the title, but they lack the resilience of Wenger’s men. They have tended to fold at crucial moments. Last week’s 2-0 defeat at Stoke City proved the Sky Blues are still uneasy about taking a permanent position at the summit of the English game.

    After years of stylish, slick, sumptuous football, the Gunners have rediscovered their backbone under Wenger. They are now able to spend a fortune on their own superstars – Özil and Sanchez are certainly world class – and are willing to scrap for every ball. After potentially damaging defeats, they always bounce back. Christ, they can even play on the counter nowadays!

    The 2-0 away win at the Etihad Stadium last season saw a performance most Arsenal fans would barely have recognised. Thanks to the sheer grit of Francis Coquelin and the guile of Santi Cazorla, the Gunners hit City where it hurt. They hauled down the heavyweights. They blocked and dodged and weaved and then counterpunched, knocking City’s fragile temple with a lethal left jab, and then a right. Sanchez surged, Cazorla glided and the back four withstood a barrage of abuse from City’s frontmen. Many believed it was a ‘light bulb’ moment for the men in red.

    Against Olympiakos this week, a minor miracle was required to lift Wenger’s boys into the knockout stages. 3-0. Easy. When welcoming in-form United at home this season, the Gunners ripped the Premier League’s meanest defence to shreds. They made two of the coolest operators in elite midfields during the past decade – Michael Carrick and Bastian Schweinsteiger – look like old men. The pace with which the Gunners flooded forward was frightening. Another light bulb moment. But can they go all the way? 

    In a footballing world where all was well, if United, City and Chelsea were punching their weight, Arsenal would be struggling, possibly playing fourth fiddle as usual. But the reluctance of those sides to take the bull by the horns, opens the door wide for Arsenal’s band of busy, burgeoning troops. It's now or never.

    This is not an advert for Arsenal. This is signifier that it is time for the unrewarded men of North London to stake their claim for the prize that has eluded them for more than a decade. 

    The real question is: can Arsenal keep fighting? Will Wenger revert to the substance-over-style methods that etched his name in Premier League history with the ‘Invincibles’ in 2004? There is no invincible team in the league this season, but as long as Arsenal can win back a few of their injury-hit contingent and remain battle-hardened and resilient, their skill and style could win the league. 

    Failure will allow Manchester City – followed by a resurgent United and Chelsea who will come back stronger next year – to forge further ahead next season. Arsenal must act and take the trophy nobody wants to win.
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    Item Reviewed: OPINION: Arsenal must take golden chance to win the league Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Dominic Booth
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