Pressure is a funny old thing.
It is the ultimate immeasurable metric, the factor that you can never truly account for. However well you may be performing or how high you may be riding, the spectre of pressure is ever-present. It’s never more than an instant away from undoing all of the hard work.
Liverpool are a prime example this season. The pressure of their title defence has simply been too much. The loss of Virgil Van Dijk removed their mask of infallibility and the pressure placed on the rest of the squad has been crushing. Players who looked a league above the rest last season now face losing it all barely 12 months later.
And it’s not just the champions who have felt pressure’s keen sting. With the season now moving towards its crucial home straight, the pressure of expectation is starting to weigh down on all of us. Teams who had been playing with blissful abandon suddenly find the prospect of a top four finish or a European place has become very real. For some, it is proving too much.
Aston Villa and Leicester – two teams who have looked sensational at times this campaign – have been among the first to crack. Injuries have and fatigue have started to take their toll and, with the finish line coming into sight, the pressure has started to tell.
It’s a phenomenon that so often proved fatal to the Arsenal squads of the 2010s. Having romped into strong positions in the first half of the season, the Gunners regularly found themselves out of the Champions League and out of contention for the league title inside a few weeks – their campaign blighted by the toll of a few big games.
But, where pressure slams the door shut for some sides, so too does it open the window for others. After a big win against Leicester last week, Arsenal now find themselves staring into a tiny crack of light. The window is ajar.
All around Mikel Arteta’s men, teams are beginning to founder. Manchester United look leggy and can’t buy a goal, Leicester are crumbling, the absence of Jack Grealish is weighing heavily on Villa, Liverpool are in freefall, Mourinho is slowly destroying Tottenham from the inside. Opportunity abounds.
Without the obvious exception of Maanchester City, only Chelsea have really grasped the nettle, with Thomas Tuchel steering his side from the depths of mid-table back up into the Champions League places. And while forcing our way into the top four at this stage of the season is almost certainly beyond us, there remains a chance at something more than what we have.
Tenth place is, frankly, not good enough for a club of our size, rebuild or otherwise. However, if we can take advantage of the opportunities that are presenting themselves, the prospect of a top six finish is certainly not beyond the realms of possibility.
We can’t afford to take our foot off the gas at the moment and Saturday’s trip to Burnley, a side struggling in the lower reaches of the league, is a real chance to begin applying a little pressure of our own.
Of course, Arteta has a difficult balancing act on his hands in keeping his squad both fit and competitive, with must-win Europa League fixtures just around the corner too, but Leicester has shown that, on their day, everyone is this squad con contribute.
Wouldn’t it be nice to watch another team to implode while we take advantage!