We are just past the halfway mark through the season, and the front runners have started to ease away from the rest of the pack, establishing a peloton of sorts.
A small herd of teams who see only the finish line and their bloody-mindedness to win at all costs has carved open a gap that the chasers will find exhausting to close.
It is simply a case of the cream rising to the top. The clubs who come to the fore when the business end of the season kicks in. Most telling though, is the effect that fixture congestion has on the Premier League.
During December and January, there were five games played in England’s top division. That is not counting the EFL Cup, the FA Cup and the Champions League to contend with. In April, there are a crazy six Premier League games to play.
The slew of fixtures demands the finest training and preparation, lessening the impact that the wear and tear of frenetic minutes on the pitch brings. Some things cannot be avoided though, and the chance of injury blatantly increase with the more time played.
This is when club rosters come into play.
Rotation will occur at every club, but it is the quality of backup that will affect results.
Clubs from the bottom of the table to the top can claim confidently that their first choice eleven can battle with any team and have a chance of snatching a result.
The exorbitant money that comes from the TV deal has allowed previous minnows to swim upstream with their bigger brothers.
Can they cope with losing their star players however? This is the hurdle that sees nearly every team struggle to cope.
Even those with genuine European aspirations cannot hope to deal with being bereft of their brightest players.
If Everton lost Lukaku and Bolasie, would they still bring as much of a threat? If Southampton lost Virgil Van Dijk and Dusan Tadic for a few months, would they maintain their position in the league?
Only a small handful of clubs can battle through such bad luck – and coincidentally – it is those who currently reside in the leading pack.
Of course, if Manchester City were to lose Sergio Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne for a while, they would find it a hell of a lot tougher to sweep past opponents, but in their depth they have adequate players to lessen the blow of losing such talent.
Arsenal now – finally – are at this point.
Although, we haven’t exactly maximised this so far.
In seasons past, if we were to see an injury to Fabregas, Nasri, Adebayor or Koscielny, then our results would capitulate along with our campaign. Fast forward to the present day, and not only can we cope better with injury, our star players are of a higher calibre than before – as well as the replacements.
The key players in our squad – Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, Santi Cazorla, Laurent Koscielny and Petr Cech – represent a strong spine. A spine that is on level terms with any in world football. It has been painful to watch, but we have painstakingly built a team to compete at the highest level. This is what we demanded and we have got our wish.
More importantly though, we have a squad that can fill cracks and gaps as they appear. It is common knowledge that the Premier League is the most gruelling in Europe. Coupled with the lack of a winter break – the winter is when the fixtures are practically every three days – then you have a burning need for players who can do a job without building up rhythm and playing every game.
The Arsenal midfield has been without Santi Cazorla recently, and the players that have come in to shore up his aperture have been international class. Mohamed Elneny, Francis Coquelin, Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey have all had stints in the centre, and with Jack Wilshere on loan, it shows a healthy amount of options.
Of course our hopes would be damaged if Mesut Ozil and Alexis were to be lost through injury. What team in the world wouldn’t be stunted by such a loss? We can now say though, that we have adequate backup.
If Alexis were to sit out a few games, we have Olivier Giroud, Theo Walcott, Lucas and Danny Welbeck who can play through the centre. If Mesut Ozil were to be sidelined, then our playmaker options are Santi Cazorla, or even Aaron Ramsey who can play just off the main striker as he sometimes does for Wales with aplomb.
Can Liverpool say they could cope with losing Coutinho and Firmino? They still lack a first class keeper! Could Chelsea deal with losing Costa and Hazard?
Any player that is missing in our team, we have enough to say we can bandage the wound and carry on. This in turn inspires competition for places that dispels any lack of motivation.
In terms of playing staff, we are stronger than we ever have been but we have not had the results to match.
The squad is exactly where it needs to be. This means that there are no logical excuses left for Wenger. Time to deliver now that you have the men at your disposal.