Early season fixture woe for Wenger
ARSENAL'S increasingly desperate quest for silverware has tended to fall away in the spring in recent seasons.
This campaign it could be faltering before September unless Arsene Wenger's team hit the ground sprinting. That is one of two key observations to be drawn from the Premier League fixture list released yesterday.
The other is that any reservations Roberto Mancini has about the difficulty of Manchester City challenging for honours on twin fronts are likely to have been magnified.
As Wenger feared, Arsenal's failure to finish in the Premier League's top three, and so win an automatic Champions League qualifying berth, has given their August fixtures a daunting hue. They read Newcastle (away); Champions League qualifier, first leg (potentially involving a trip to Russia or Ukraine); Liverpool (home); Champions League qualifier, second leg; Manchester United (away). All in the space of 16 days (assuming the last fixture attracts the cameras).
It's a demanding schedule for a team which Wenger is seeking to retool significantly, and which this season will not have the benefit of a pre-season training camp after Wenger was persuaded to abandon his traditional Austrian base for a more lucrative tour of the Far East.
Wenger hopes to tie up the £10.6m transfer of the Ivory Coast striker Gervinho over the weekend on a four-year deal from Lille and should Arsenal survive August with their ambitions intact, their fixture list settles down.
During the Champions League group stages they have an even balance of home and away domestic fixtures, before and after each European tie.
Not so Mancini's team. The Italian is sure to be condemning a fixture list that commits City to away Premier League ties after all six group matches. And being lowly seeds, their European fixtures will not be the comfortable stroll Manchester United usually enjoy. Among their post-Europe fixtures are three visits to London, including Stamford Bridge, plus matches at Old Trafford and Anfield. If City are still in Europe, and in domestic title contention come Christmas, Mancini and his medical staff will have done remarkably well.
Incidentally, as the Mancunian rivals are "paired" for policing reasons, United enjoy six post-European home matches, though doubtless Alex Ferguson will moan that every Champions League fixture is preceded by an away match, though only the October week, which sandwiches a European tie between Liverpool (away) and Manchester City (home), looks problematic.
United start their title defence at The Hawthorns, which was one of their trickier fixtures last season, Manchester City host newly promoted Swansea, Norwich are at Wigan, and QPR host Bolton.
There will be new managers in both dugouts at Craven Cottage, where Martin Jol's Fulham face Alex McLeish's Aston Villa. Chelsea go to Stoke, Everton to Spurs, Wolves to Blackburn and Sunderland to Liverpool. (© Independent News Service)