Big test looms for Arsenal

Posted by John Cross

Stuart MacFarlane/Getty ImagesArsene Wenger's team face Napoli and Man City in quick succession.

You have got to feel a degree of sympathy for Arsene Wenger. The Arsenal boss is facing a fixture nightmare with their trip to Manchester City for a title clash on Saturday week their third huge game in six days.

It's the worst possible preparation to face a team in superb form and looking to overhaul Arsenal at the top of the Premier League.

It is made tricky by the fact Arsenal face Hull and Everton in quick succession before travelling to Napoli, a notoriously hard place to go, needing to get a result in the Champions League on the Wednesday night, less than three days before going to City.

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Arsenal have got 12 points from their European Group of Death and yet still have not booked their place in the knock-out phase, with Napoli and Borussia Dortmund still in the hunt.

It means that Arsenal must go to Naples next week needing a result, so they will have to put out a strong team to ensure they do not suffer a 3-0 defeat which could put them out.

Napoli at home are a very tricky team to beat, plus Rafa Benitez is a past master at getting results in Europe. Liverpool fans will testify to that, having won the Champions League under the stewardship of the Spaniard.

Arsenal must be feeling confident they will not go out, but it's not a tie they can take easily, even with the head to head - having beaten Napoli at home 2-0 - and goal difference on their side.

But the tricky part is that less than three days later, after a late night return from a huge game in Italy, Arsenal must go to Manchester City for a Saturday lunchtime kick-off, arranged at that time for the benefit of TV coverage.

We can't blame anyone. The TV companies want the big games. Arsenal might have been through -- and ordinarily with 12 points would have been home and hosed -- and able to rest some players for a dead rubber in the Champions League.

City also play in the Champions League that week but they have an extra 24 hours to recover after facing Bayern Munich and are already through so the trip to Germany won't be as important, meaning Manuel Pellegrini could rest players.

But it is not the case and it's understandable that Wenger is frustrated and disappointed. We should do all we can to help English teams in the Champions League. We want them to succeed.

However, few could have predicted Arsenal's tough group. And also, perhaps we should remember that Arsenal had a bug before going to Manchester United and didn't do themselves justice.

Can they do themselves justice at City after such a tough week? And I get the impression that's one thing Wenger wants to do against the big clubs. They are top, sitting pretty and yet they also want to send a strong message and winning in Manchester would be huge.

They have a tough week this week. At home to Hull on Wednesday, entertain Everton next Sunday and then go to Naples before then facing Manchester City.

It's already being seen as the week from hell around the club. If Arsenal can navigate their way through it, qualify for the Champions League knock-out and stay top then they really will be champions material.

At the moment, it would seem that people are looking for reasons why they can't win it rather than reasons why they can.

City look awesome at home. Not so clever on their travels, but Pellegrini's men look unplayable at the Etihad. Creative and free scoring, they are smashing teams out of sight.

Arsenal will go there tired with not much room to rest and rotate; they can shift some pieces in midfield but not in attack or defence.

In fact, Arsenal have a luxury of almost too many players in midfield. But for Napoli and City, you need your A team. You need Mikel Arteta, Mathieu Flamini, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla and Mesut Ozil. They will all want to play, but ideally some would have been rested for a dead rubber in Napoli so they would be fresh for City. But this is not the case.

This is when their squad will be tested. It will be one hell of a week. In fact, it will be a season defining week in Europe and the title race.

To squeeze it into the space of less than three days is tough. And for that reason, Wenger deserves some sympathy.


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