Look away now if you are easily frightened.
For example if you have to cover your eyes during the scary bits of Scooby Doo or you run screaming from the room when Alan Hansen appears on TV, the next bit may cause you to swoon:
Within the next 10 weeks we have two horrible groupings of fixtures – what you might call “Death Clusters.”
Here they are:
Death Cluster 1
Sat Feb 8th – Liverpool A
Wed Feb 12th – Man Utd H
Weekend of February 14 -17 – FA Cup 5th Liverpool H
Wed Feb 19th – Bayern Munich H
Death Cluster 2
Weekend of March 7-10 – FA Cup QF
Tues March 11 – Bayern Munich A
Sat March 15 – Spuds A
Sat March 22 – Chelsea A
Sat March 29 – Man City H
April 1 or 2 – ECL QF 1L
Sat April 5 – Everton A
April 8/9 – ECL QF 2L
In Death Cluster 1 we play four games in 11 days against opponents who include our title rivals, the Champions of Europe, a team aiming to get in the quarter finals of the FA Cup and Manchester United.
Death Cluster 2 is even worse: one month with (potentially) eight big, big matches including (again) the reigning European champions, our noisy neighbours and the two money-doped petrodollar juggernauts.
So what do we do about these daunting anomalies of the fixtures merry-go-round?
Well, we could all go into hibernation and come out with the daffodils and crocuses in mid April.
But, as my dear late Dad said when he threw me – a non-swimming six-year-old – in the deep end of Charlton Lido: “You have to confront your fears.”
Later, as the lifeguard resuscitated me, I pondered the wisdom of his words but was, perhaps, too young to fully take them in.
These days the sentiment is reflected in the saying: “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
I’ve never been too sure about that one either: if you narrowly avoid death from a debilitating muscle-wasting disease or lose three of your limbs in a combine harvester accident you probably don’t end up stronger.
But that’s just nit-picking.
When it comes to Arsenal, what’s abundantly clear about these Death Clusters is that if they don’t kill us, they absolutely WILL make us stronger.
And that’s why I see them not as the terrifying storm-on-the-horizon that some supporters are worrying about. Instead I see them as a great big gift-wrapped golden opportunity.
Because much as these sorts of fixture runs can derail a team’s season, they can also turbo power it.
Let’s look at Death Cluster 1: if we win or even draw at Liverpool then beat ManUre at our place (getting that particular Bale off our back at the same time) the confidence and togetherness in the squad – which is already excellent – will get even better.
Then we have the 5th Round of the FA Cup. As I write this I am praying that Dennis bestows on us a comfortable home fixture against lower league opposition so we can rest and rotate. Written before the draw.
Then it’s Munich at home. If we avoid defeat in that game we will have come through Death Cluster 1 in great shape. Crucially, good performances and/or results against Liverpool, ManUre and Munich will put us in great shape to face Death Cluster 2.
By the time we start on that second run of tough games we will have that most important quality in football: momentum.
With a head of steam behind us we can roll through mid March to mid April scattering our foes before us like James Corden rolling downhill through a field of size zero models.
And yes, I know this is all speculation and what ifs. And I am aware that if we fail to get past Bayern the second Cluster eases up a bit. But I want to emphasise the point that if this Arsenal is to be the team we all want it to be, these huge games need to be seen as springboards not obstacles.
Squad fitness, new signings (?), refereeing competence – all will play their part. But really it’s down to our team and our club to make the most of these opportunities.
Let’s laugh in the face of Death Clusters.