Breaking free from the pack: a glance at our 2013-14 fixture-list

Our official 2013-14 is now out, so it’s worth a quick look even while we remind ourselves that a lot can happen between now and when the actual games are played: transfers, injuries, and loans, to name a few. Last year’s hero could become this year’s goat and vice-versa. New signees might need bedding-in time, or they might not. New managers have to establish their reigns, and there is of course the x-factor of European and league cup competitions to add into the mix.

You can find my version of our fixture-list here, where, for each game, I’ll provide each team’s current position on the table as well as the results of its previous five games.

On to the fixture-list itself. At the risk of making bold, sweeping statements, if we’re not at or near the top of the table at the end of October, we’ll really only have ourselves to blame.  Aside from the North London derby  on 31 August, we face a cabal of teams we should really take maximum points from: Aston Villa, at Fulham, at Sunderland, Stoke, at Swansea, at West Brom, Norwich, and at Crystal Palace. By the time we host Liverpool on 2 November, I don’t think it’s too much to expect us to have 20 points. For those looking for a bit of context, we took 15 points from our first nine matches last year (although we did face Man City, Chelsea, and Man U), dropping points we really should have kept against Sunderland, Stoke, and Norwich. A quick and strong start, made eminently possible by the comparable ease of this fixture-list, is therefore vital. It’s a drum I beat continually: we can tolerate dropping a point or two against top-of-the-table teams once in a while, but it is vital to take maximum points from anyone below us.

Looking further down the road, going to Old Trafford (as we do on 9 November) is never easy, but it’s not quite as tough was what we’ll see for the month of December when we have six matches (not including Champions League or league cup matches), three against likely top-five teams: Everton, at Man City, and Chelsea. That stretch might tell us more about what we’re made of than than any prior stretch. We’ll know, for example, where we stand on the table in a meaningful sense, we’ll know if we’d progressed to the Champions League knock-out stage, and we’ll know if we’re still contending in the league cup.

After that, it’s another pedestrian stretch until late March, when we travel to White Hart Lane followed by a trip to Stamford Bridge, then host Man City. In other words, many of our toughest matches are clustered together again, which is tricky, but if we’re looking to schedule-makers to do us favors, we have no business calling ourselves contenders.  The upside, though, is that we look set to close the season strong with a visit from West Ham,  a trip to Hull City, visits from West Brom and Newcastle, and a close-out trip to face Norwich. Those are fifteen points that, like last year, we should be able to seize. Let’s hope that this year it’s to solidify something more meaningful and lofty than a fourth-place finish.

After all, if we can do anything to avoid the shaky inconsistency from the first half of last year, and do anything to replicate our form in the second half, I won’t have to make any more dopey “Race for 4th” posts as I did last year.

It all starts with a quick start–not just for points, not just for position, but to establish an identity and impose ourselves on teams further down the road. If we can break from the gates early, we send an intimidating signal that we couldn’t send last year when we stumbled and sputtered: We are Arsenal.

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