While Manchester City have been by far the sternest test Arsenal have faced since the Premier League season re-started, it’s Saturday’s trip to Wolves that will likely define the remainder of the campaign.
I think it’s relatively easy in the grand scheme of things to shrug off a loss to Pep Guardiola’s City, abject as it was, because it wasn’t a game that will likely impact our immediate future in a way the Wolves clash can.
Defeat in the Midlands will almost certainly spell the end for our European ambitions next season (FA Cup notwithstanding) while victory will keep the dream alive, particularly as some of those in and around us have started to flounder as the fight for points hots up.
Mikel Arteta has spoken several times about different post-season transfer plans that depend a great deal on how we finish the season, whether we have Champions League football, Europa League football, or a season devoid of any continental competition.
Though some feel the latter of the possibilities would be preferable for our rebuild, the reality is that KSE won’t be splashing the cash this summer unless they can be sure of significant incoming revenue, something only European football can offer – albeit with a little uncertainty around even that prospect.
Many of us are indifferent about the Europa League but, however you feel, the reality is the money it provides, meagre as it is compared to the Champions League, can help finance some of the work that Arteta feels needs doing to get this club back fighting for the top prizes.
For that reason, it feels like the trip to Molineux is of particular importance. Win and the momentum behind us gathers pace and serves as a serious setback to one of our European rivals. Lose and it’s the end of the road and a blow to the good will and good feeling that has been fostered in the last week or so around the Emirates.
Victory will not come easy, though. This won’t be another Norwich. Wolves are a well organised side with a clear pattern of play and several technically excellent players. They won’t roll over and they have plenty still to play for.
Make no mistake, this game will be a real litmus test for how we are progressing.
Of course, matches against Leicester, Tottenham, and Liverpool still await after the Wolves clash, but those fixtures don’t carry any importance as of this moment. Their significance will be moulded almost entirely by how we perform at Wolves and whether we can get the result our season needs.
Victory is not the be all and end all, I readily accept that. Arteta’s long-term vision for the club won’t necessarily stand or fall on a Saturday night in Wolverhampton but it is important that we seize any opportunities that come our way. The failure of Chelsea, Tottenham and Leicester to inflict fatal wounds on their European rivals has left the door ajar for those of us lurking in the background and it would be remiss if we didn’t make the most of it.
Given our recent history against Wolves, I can’t say that I’m oozing confidence ahead of this latest meeting, but with a lot on the line for the Gunners, I hope the reality of what’s at stake is not lost on the team.