Fixture list goes against mass view that Arsenal are top-four certainties
The fact Arsenal began 2014 on top of the Premier League and will return to the summit if winning as expected against Aston Villa, makes them one of three teams that are pretty much bankers across the board to finish in the top four this season.
If 100 football fans were asked which four clubs would finish in the Champions League qualification spots this season, Manchester City and Chelsea would surely be in 90+ lists, with Arsenal’s inclusion percentage probably above 80 per cent.
Arsenal’s odds are 1/5 to finish in the top four this season, with 3/1 on offer that they finish outside of these positions for the first time since 1996.
And a case can certainly be made that the away fixtures remaining for the Gunners this season indicate that a top-four finish is far from the certainty that many expect.
Arsenal still have to play nine of the current 12 teams in the table on the road, with their two especially tough away games so far ending in defeat at the Etihad and Old Trafford.
Trips to Chelsea, Liverpool and Everton will be far from easy and Arsenal are also not blessed with the largest squad to cope with these fixtures.
The run across March and April that sees Arsene Wenger’s team travel to Tottenham and Chelsea on consecutive weekends, followed by a home clash with Man City seven days later and then a trip to Everton could prove especially damaging.
Should Arsenal be within a handful of points of the chasing pack for a top-four finish before this cluster of games, there is every possibility they will be down in fifth or below afterwards.
In the midweek before this run of league fixtures too, Arsenal will have a Champions League round of 16 second leg to prepare for against Bayern Munich.