The fixtures for next season’s Premier League were published yesterday and some parts immediately stood out from an Arsenal perspective.
You can read the full list on the club website, but here are some of the highlights:
We Need To Hit The Ground Running
The fixtures computer has given us a challenging start to the new season, which kicks off on August 14th when we are away at newly promoted Brentford, followed by Chelsea at home and Manchester City away.
The Brentford game may look easily winnable on paper (the Bees finished third in the Championship and had to battle through the play-offs), but newly promoted teams are often at their most dangerous at the start of the season when they are still full of hope and expectation. By mid October they have usually had the stuffing knocked out of them with some heavy defeats.
So, this opening day fixture is no gimme and it is immediately followed by matches against the teams that finished fourth and first in the Premier League last season. Chelsea and Man City will both be intent on getting a strong start to their campaigns and we’ll have to be ready to match them. We will learn a lot about the Arsenal of 2021/22 in the first two weeks.
A Reasonable Christmas
The seasonal schedule can be difficult for several reasons: a lot of games crammed into a short space of time; players wanting to be with their families rather than travelling all round the country; odd kick-off times.
This year we’re away at newly promoted Norwich on Boxing Day, then home to Wolves two days later, with a New Years Day fixture against Man City at home. Obviously City will be a challenge, but the fact that we don’t have to travel after Boxing Day until the middle of January is helpful. And given how good City were last season and will probably be in the season to come, I’d rather be playing them on a special occasion like New Years Day, when our home crowd will be merrily lubricated and well up for it.
Our home fixture against the Noisy Neighbours is on September 25th. We play them again at the Armitage Shanks Arena on January 15th, by which time it will hopefully be apparent to them and all their fans that they’re in for another season of disappointment.
It’s also possible that their involvement in the Europa No-Hoper Conference – which will see them having to trail round half the far-flung countries of Europe – will impact their league form, while we have no such excuse.
An Excellent Run In
If we can remain competitive up to the start of March (for a shot at the top four, let’s say) then we’ll have a fighting chance of making it thanks to our decent run in.
After Liverpool at home on February 26th, we have 11 games to the end of the season, of which only one is against a traditional ‘Big Six’ team (Man United at home on April 23rd).
Of course, you could argue that the traditional Big Six is no longer a thing, and that our run in includes teams who may well be in the actual top six at that point of the season (notably Leicester, whom we play at the Emirates on March 12th) and possibly Aston Villa (March 19th away) who are busily trying to strengthen their squad this summer.
However, a final 11 games of Watford (a), Leicester (h), Villa (a), Palace (a), Brighton (h), Saints (a), Man United (h), West Ham (a), Leeds (h), Newcastle (a) and Everton (h) is not bad at all.
Finishing with a home game can also make a difference if we need a result on the final day.
Tough Away Days in the First Half
The fact of that decent run in should tell the observant reader that there must be some pain lying elsewhere in the schedule, and it comes with a bunch of hard away days in the first half of the season.
We face away games at Man City, Man United, Liverpool and Leicester before the end of November.
In the end the fixtures probably mean little. If our team is functioning well and has been intelligently added to during the summer we will do OK, regardless of the order in which our opponents come at us.
But, to coin a footballing cliche, it can be a game of fine margins and in the areas listed above we can hope that the margins might favour us.