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Dec 5, 2007

The Gunners prepare for difficult December

Arsenal's 28-match unbeaten run that stretched all the way back to April finally came to an end in Seville on Tuesday night. The Spaniards replied to Eduardo's 11th minute opener with three goals of their own and inflicted a defeat that saw the Gunners slip to second in their Champions League group.

Arsene Wenger rang the changes from the previous Saturday's victory over Wigan Athletic with eight alterations to the starting line up - and it showed. Cesc Fabregas had a very quiet game before coming off with a worrying, but hopefully minor, strain. Gilberto and Philippe Senderos both looked incredibly ring-rusty and their mistakes contributed to Sevilla's equaliser in the 24th minute.

Elsewhere, Denilson and Eboue also had below par games. The only player to really shine was Nicolas Bendtner who, deployed largely as a lone striker, ran tirelessly all night and contributed some fantastic link-up play.

The result means that to win their group the Gunners now need to beat Steaua Bucharest at home and hope that Sevilla fail to win in Prague in two weeks time. Though going through in top spot is likely to mean an easier draw and a second leg at home in the last sixteen round, finishing second would not be a disaster. As Arsene Wenger's men found out to their cost against PSV Eindhoven last season, away goals scored in second legs can be killer blows and drawing the team perceived to be the weakest left in the tournament is not always the dream ticket it might seem.

Though it was disappointing to see the unbeaten run go, it had to end some time and most fans would agree that it would be far better to lose a game in the Champions League with not much at stake rather than lose a match in the Premier League. With each game so keenly contested and plenty of teams pushing hard at the top of the table every fixture feels like a "must win" match.

Last Saturday's victory over Wigan saw the Gunners not at their best but able to raise their game a few notches in the final ten minutes to put a dogged visiting side to the sword and make sure that full advantage was taken of Manchester United's slip up at Bolton.

For the second home Premier League game in a row, William Gallas came to the rescue with a late goal and Tomas Rosicky followed up a few moments later after an excellent run and perfectly-weighted pass from Nicolas Bendtner. It was a hugely important victory as the Gunners now face an extremely tough December in the Premier League with five away games to contend with and just two matches at home. It looks a potentially treacherous set of fixtures with the team having to visit Aston Villa, Newcastle, Middlesbrough, Portsmouth and Everton. The home matches are just the small matters of clashes with Chelsea and Spurs.

December is a month that notoriously can have a huge bearing on the destiny of the title. With games coming thick and fast over the Christmas period, teams who get through the month successfully can build a platform for a real tilt at winning the league. Certainly, this coming month will be a severe test of all the resources in the squad that Arsene Wenger has referred to many times this season.

The month starts with three away games in a week - the first of which is at Aston Villa on Saturday. Virtually unheralded, Martin O'Neill's side have arrived at sixth in the table following a four-match winning streak. Their most recent triumph was a 4-0 victory away at Blackburn, a team who have proved stiff opposition for almost everyone this season. Saturday will be a severe examination of Arsene Wenger's side and fingers will be crossed that Cesc Fabregas can shake off the injury he picked up in Seville in time. Certainly, it would great to get off the launching pad in this difficult month with a good performance and a result at Villa Park.


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