It’s funny how quickly things can change in the Premier League.
One week you’re talking about a possible Champions League tilt, the next you’re hoping a win will keep you in with a shot at a Europa League place. Those are the fine margins that often separate the best teams from the rest of the pack.
Faced with an inexorable slide down the league, Chelsea have arrested their decline and now, suddenly, they are breathing down the neck of last season’s champions and the boon of a Champions League slot.
That’s not to say that sacking the manager mid-season is the cure-all for every team – just ask West Brom – rather, the point is that a few games can change everything.
For Arsenal, a relegation battle reached the cusp of top four contention after a similar sort of reversal of fortune and, but for some bad luck and carelessness, we might be looking at Sunday’s clash with Leeds as a chance to break into those coveted upper echelons.
As it is, we find ourselves now marooned in no man’s land – a pair of momentum-checking defeats sending us back towards mid-table and into footballing obscurity. At this point, another defeat and the jig is up.
That’s not a situation we want to find ourselves in, staking it all on a Europa League run in order to earn ourselves a shot at Europe next season, it’s much too risky. That’s why a win over Leeds is the only result that will do, to keep ourselves, at the very least, in contention.
The possibility is still remote, of course, but a puncher’s chance is better than no chance.
In the absence of Thomas Partey and Kieran Tierney, the task of getting past Leeds becomes all the more daunting and difficult, not least because of the boost in quality the aforementioned bring to our team – a pair of Champions League-level players in a middling squad. Getting a result without them is going to be difficult.
Midfield is likely to be where this one is won and lost so, whoever comes into the mix, is going to have to play as well, if not better, than they have done at any point in their Arsenal careers. Who Mikel Arteta calls on to partner Granit Xhaka will be telling.
Most would assume Dani Ceballos would be the man to get the nod but why not Martin Odegaard? Ceballos is busy, committed and combative on his day but, as we have seen on countless occasions this season, is not well-suited to playing alongside Xhaka. Would Odegaard’s ball retention and superior passing be a better fit?
Ultimately, we won’t know the manager’s thinking until the line-up is revealed an hour before kick-off but his choice will be telling and will set the tone of the match.
Whatever Mikel decides, one thing is clear – we can’t afford another defeat at this stage of the season if we harbour serious hopes of European qualification. This could be last-chance saloon.