October is nearing an end, the weather is taking a turn for the worse, leaves are turning from green to brown and we are not really any nearer to knowing what type of season this going to be for Arsenal Football Club.
In the wake of a dismal 1-0 defeat by Norwich City at Carrow Road on Saturday that leaves them ten points behind Premier League leaders Chelsea, it is already safe to assume that it won’t be one that ends in them being champions of England for the first time since the Invincibles of 2004, but what are we to really expect from the Gunners until May?
Arsenal have been so erratic already and part of the reason I am posing the question is because I have to admit that I haven’t been able to call Arsenal right yet this season. I have had my reservations about Arsene Wenger’s side – reservations that I have written about on this site a couple of times in recent weeks – and those will remain until I see some more solid evidence their problems aren’t short-term.
I am far from convinced the strikeforce is consistent enough now it has been shorn of Robin van Persie; I think the midfield, which has far too many injury-prone players anyway, can blow hot and cold too often to be relied upon; and you don’t hear much about Steve Bould now that Arsenal have failed to keep a clean sheet in their last eight games, do you?
I said at the time that the three consecutive clean sheets at the very start of the season could have just been a coincidence, a fluke in the fixture list that put them up against three very shot-shy teams in Sunderland, Stoke and Liverpool, and I think that is definitely one thing I have called right.
But in general Wenger’s team are too unpredictable and every time I think there is a chance to oppose them, like I did when they went to West Ham, they pull a good result and performance out of the bag. Yet when I am convinced they look a good thing, like at Norwich on Saturday, they go and let me down.
So it is with some hesitation that I say I believe Arsenal will get the better of Schalke when the Germans visit the Emirates on Wednesday night. You can get evens with bwin on the Gunners claiming a third Group B win on the trot, with the draw at 5/2 and Schalke at the same price, and an Arsenal win with a few goals looks like a good play.
Arsenal’s record in the Champions League at home is phenomenal: they have lost just once, to Manchester United in the semi-final in 2009, since being beaten by Chelsea in 2004 – a run of 34 wins, nine draws and one defeat. It is a record that would be the envy of nearly all the top clubs in the competition and better sides than Schalke have been put to the sword in that time.
But that is not to do Huub Stevens’ side a disservice. Schalke are a fine outfit and have been beaten only once all season, at home to a Bayern Munich side who have a 100% domestic record.
They lie third in the Bundesliga and have scored two goals in each of their five away games this season. So they are a dangerous side, but their away record in Europe – an incredible 5-2 away win at Inter Milan a couple of years ago aside – is patchy to say the least and Arsenal’s extra Champions League nous can make all the difference.
But given Schalke’s goal threat, it is the 37/20 on Arsenal winning with over 2.5 goals scored in the game that has to be the shout. Punters using the free £20 bet they receive when registering with bwin to back this outcome would pocket £57 in winnings if successful.
I’m wary of backing Arsenal at odds on, but this is a game that should have goals (over 3.5 goals is just 33/20) and Wenger’s side can build on their two opening wins to all but secure their passage to the last 16.