Rightly or wrongly, question marks will be asked if Arsenal slip up this evening against Liverpool.
After an outstanding start to the campaign, the doubters had already cited the Gunners’ fixture list in late October and early November as a rod to beat them with even before the results were in.
And following recent defeats against Borussia Dortmund and Chelsea, another loss in today’s late kick-off will give those same rival fans even more fuel for their fires.
In many ways this evening’s match is the season’s first six-pointer.
Should Arsenal win, they will move five points clear of Brendan Rodgers’ side. But if they lose the Reds will sit one point above them, and Arsene Wenger will go into next week’s Champions League return against Dortmund in the midst of something of a crisis.
Whether Arsenal fans see that as an overreaction or a fair reflection of an as yet hypothetical situation is open to debate. But Wenger is under the spotlight as he attempts to seal that one big result that will if not silence then certainly quell the doubters.
It has become something of a habit among neutrals to state the inevitable when it comes to Arsenal. They will do well up to a point, and then they will capitulate.
But with the arrival of Mesut Ozil, the resurgence of Olivier Giroud and the coming-of-age of Aaron Ramsey, they now have the men to change the habit of recent seasons.
Had Wenger also managed to secure Luis Suarez during the summer (a possibility Rodgers has dismissed out of hand) he could have had a team even seasoned doubters would have had trouble dismissing. But as it is he will come up against the Uruguayan tonight, hoping he has a rare off-day.
While they are already out of the League Cup, Arsenal are realistic challengers both in the league and – to a lesser extent – in Europe. While some will point at their recent loss to Dortmund as a sure sign they are inferior to the Champions League elite, the truth is they were unlucky to lose that match.
They will be unlucky again, and sometimes they will simply not be good enough, but this evening Wenger must ensure neither of those things happen; as much as he has the power to do so.
Liverpool fans may already be licking their lips in anticipation for a winning goal from Suarez. But Wenger must prove his side are both learning and evolving. Arsenal fans may say it is about time.
image: © Matt and Kim Rudge