Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Arsenal Can Be Champions Despite Middlesbrough Defeat

Talk of invincibility has been thrown out the window. Gareth Southgate's lowly Middlesbrough have inflicted a first league defeat on Arsene Wenger's Arsenal side.

And so the naysayers once again begin to doubt the young Gunners. Eleven wins, four draws and one defeat place Arsenal a point ahead of last season's champions Manchester United, deservedly at the top of the Premier League table. Why, then, do the so-called pundits, players and fans alike, begin to question the squad?

An Arsenal side missing four of their best players in Cesc Fabregas, Alex Hleb, Robin van Persie and Mathieu Flamini did indeed fall to a team hovering too close to the relegation zone. But look at any of the top four teams and imagine how they would do without four of their best players.

Chelsea would be nothing without Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard, Joe Cole and Michael Essien. Manchester United are far less potent without Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes. Even Rafa Benitez's crazy rotation policies couldn't save a Liverpool side without Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres, Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano.

Those who claim that Arsenal's loss to Middlesbrough is a portent of bad times to come would do well to remember some of the bad results the Gunners' rivals have been through this season. Only a day before Arsenal lost to Boro, a nearly full-strength Liverpool were defeated 3-1 by struggling Reading, and a Rooney and Ronaldo-less Manchester United were beaten by second-from-bottom Bolton at the Reebok only a few weeks ago.

Although Chelsea's two league defeats have come at the hands of United and Aston Villa, one need only look as far as a 1-1 draw with minnows Rosenborg to see that even Roman Abramovich's money cannot buy safety from injuries.

The Premier League is long and arduous. Just as critics warned Arsenal fans that the first 16 games do not decide the winners, I would like to remind the opposition that while a game may prove to be a turning point in a team's fortunes, it takes a full 38 games to crown the champions.

Arsenal are at the top of the table, and anything could happen over the next 22 games, but I see the Gunners as favourites to lift the Premier League crown when the dust settles. Don't write them off just yet.