By Arsenal correspondent Tony Hughes
Arsenal have their best chance of winning the Premier League since the Invincibles landed the title 11 years ago, according to Jamie Carragher.
With the Gunners on the edge of elimination from the Champions League group, the TV pundit believes they will have an advantage over the Manchester clubs and Chelsea, who are all likely to progress from their groups.
Carragher believes Manchester City have the strongest squad but is convinced Arsenal have a “golden opportunity” to overcome the favourites and that the chance might not come around again in a while.
“I can’t see them getting close to winning the Champions League this year even if they miraculously reach the knockout stages,” Carragher wrote in his Mail Online column today. “[Arsene] Wenger doesn’t have to worry about their place in the competition next year as they are all but guaranteed a top-four finish.
“A group-stage elimination might actually play into their hands and make them champions of England again.
“Financial implications have nothing to do with it either, as Arsenal are sitting on a mountain of cash. They can afford to be out of it. What they cannot afford, however, is to lose impetus after their excellent start to the domestic campaign.
“This is the best chance Arsenal have had to win the title since 2004, up there with 2007-08 when they crumbled at Birmingham and William Gallas sulked on the pitch.
“I don’t think Arsenal are the best team in the Barclays Premier League. I don’t think they have the best squad, either. Both those accolades go to Manchester City, who are rightly favourites because of Chelsea’s demise. But they are not certainties for first place.”
The former England international sees comparisons between Wenger’s side and the Luis Suarez-inspired Liverpool team who took advantage of a relatively free calendar to nearly claim the 2013/14 title.
“All their rivals have issues or distractions and this is why Wenger has to capitalise.
“City, for all their talents, will have days again such as their 4-1 loss at Tottenham or the slip-up at home to West Ham. And Sergio Aguero’s injury record is a huge concern as he is arguably the one truly world-class player in the Premier League. Not only that, they are most likely to find themselves having a fixture pile-up in the second half of the campaign.
“Take the Capital One Cup. Arsenal are out but Manuel Pellegrini’s side now have a quarter-final against Hull on the agenda, which is likely to mean they will get through to the last four. Pellegrini has fielded a strong team in the Capital One Cup too, so they are likely to face at least another three games.
“Then if they get to the final — would you bet against them? — a fourth match would be added to their schedule and a Premier League game away at Newcastle would need rescheduling.
“It’s another three to four weeks of three games per week, which has a big effect on players as the season goes on.
“Liverpool, remember, almost won the title in 2014 by having a clear calendar. You will say: ‘What about the Europa League?’
“But if Arsenal finish third in their group, Wenger should use those Thursday games to give matches to players such as Calum Chambers, Kieran Gibbs and Mikel Arteta. In fact, he should use them in the penultimate Champions League game and see where it leaves them.”
“He needs to protect his strongest team and after the international break, his injury situation should have cleared up. But injuries have been a long-term weakness and it could yet derail them as much as City.
“Wenger has seen football’s landscape change dramatically since the early years of his reign. When Arsenal were at Highbury, only one club were better than them — Manchester United — and the task of becoming champions was straightforward. If you finished above United, you won the title. That is no longer the case.
“Next season, for instance, Chelsea will not be as bad as they are now. United will, inevitably, invest another £100million next summer and it is only a matter of time before the weight of their spending carries them back to winning silverware.
“Arsenal have to exploit the glimmer of light in front of them. They have been the best team in 2015, taking 67 points from their 30 Premier League matches, but being the best from January to December means nothing.
“Many will expect them to fold when the pressure is on and I do worry about Per Mertesacker in the centre of their defence. But there are reasons why they can see the job through this time.
“They have won big matches in 2015 and the victory at the Etihad Stadium in January was significant in terms of providing confidence and belief.
“When I look at their squad, I don’t see many better central defenders in the Premier League than Koscielny, and Arsenal win 67 per cent of games with him and only 46 per cent without him.
“Petr Cech has been a typically excellent signing and the more I see Francis Coquelin, the more I am impressed by his energy and drive. He looks the part.
“Now Arsenal must show they also look the part. They cannot let this moment slip.”