Mikel Arteta will be looking for a much stronger start to the new season as Arsenal look to draw a line under last season’s disappointment.
The Gunners were in big trouble by December before a strong finish saw them steady the ship. But Arteta knows there can be none of that this season and they must be back in contention for European football, something they will be missing next season for the first time in 25 years.
Following yesterday’s fixture announcement, here are nine games that could decide the season – including two that will impact Arsenal directly – from our Reach PLC correspondents.
Arsenal – Chris Wheatley
Manchester United (a) – November 30th
Arsenal made their worst ever start to a Premier League campaign under Mikel Arteta last season, something they will need to avoid when they kick off against Brentford in August.
The months of November and December proved to be a torrid experience for Arteta in his first full season at the club, as defeats to Wolves, Tottenham and Burnley saw the Spaniard almost lose his job.
A November trip to Old Trafford could prove crucial for Arsenal as they look to cement their top four ambitions. They secured a famous 1-0 win for the first time in over a decade last season, and will be determined to repeat those heroics when the game comes around.
Arteta’s results against top six sides last season were better than many would have expected. Chelsea, United and Tottenham were all on the receiving end of defeats in what ended up being Arsenal’s worst league finish in 25 years.
It’s not known where there will be a full away allocation for the match in November, but you can be sure that the match against United will have a big part to play in Arsenal’s season.
Tottenham – Rob Guest
Arsenal (a) September 25
The first north London derby of the season against Arsenal really could be pivotal in terms of Tottenham‘s aspirations in 2021/22.
Given those crunch games against Man City and Chelsea in the opening few weeks may not go in Spurs’ favour, the derby clash away at Arsenal could be a huge fixture for the club’s next manager, which is now looking likely to be Gennaro Gattuso.
A win against the Gunners would give everyone a huge boost going into October, but things could potentially look rather bleak if they visit the Emirates in desperate need of the points after a slow start and don’t come out on top.
A big fixture in the calendar for Tottenham anyway, it could be a massive game so early in the season for Spurs’ next manager.
Chelsea – Sam Inkersole
Manchester City (a) January 15
On paper at least, Chelsea have one of the toughest starts of any Premier League side after the fixtures for the new season were released on Wednesday morning.
The Blues will face four of last season’s top seven in their first six matches, including the last two top flight Champions in Man City (September 28) and Liverpool (August 28).
Following their Champions League success and rejuvenation since January when Thomas Tuchel replaced Frank Lampard, there will be more eyes on the Blues to mount a title challenge this season and the German head coach will not have taken too kindly to seeing what the fixture computer has thrown out for his side.
In fact, the average finishing position last season of Chelsea‘s first six opponents for 2021/22 comes in at 7.3, joint-toughest alongside Southampton’s start to the new campaign.
January 2022 looks especially brutal for Tuchel and Chelsea. On New Year’s Day, Chelsea will welcome Liverpool to Stamford Bridge before an FA Cup third round tie, then they head north to the Etihad.
A week later and it’s Tottenham, then perhaps an FA Cup fourth round tie. This could potentially all be off the back of the Club World Cup, which usually takes place in December though there is no official date for this year’s tournament where Chelsea will head in as European champions.
Tuchel has consistently said that City are the “benchmark” and that his team need to close the gap on Guardiola’s side in Manchester and he couldn’t have been handed a tougher start, or middle part of the season, in which to do it.
The turn of the year for 2022 sees three pivotal games for Chelsea and if they do harbour Premier League title ambitions this season then that trio of games, two of them at Stamford Bridge, will be crucial if they want to end City’s domestic dominance.
Liverpool – Paul Gorst
Manchester City (h) October 2
Trent Alexander-Arnold took a long pause for thought.
The Liverpool right-back, still basking in the glow of being crowned a Premier League champion, was sitting down for a chat with the ECHO when the next question made him think.
“Ooooof…” he muttered before giving it some consideration.
Alexander-Arnold had been asked if there was a moment when he and his team-mates felt confident that the title – one that was eventually won by 18 points – would be theirs after all.
“Going into the Manchester City game, it wasn’t that when we won that I thought we would win the league, but it put us in a great position,” he said.
“It took us nine points clear [of City] and if we had lost that it would have taken us down to three. So that was a big win for us.”
A fixture in November was viewed understandably by many as too early to anoint Jurgen Klopp’s side as champions-in-waiting, but that Anfield triumph fanned the flames of Liverpool belief.
It took the Reds eight clear of second-place Leicester heading into an international break, which was more than enough breathing room ahead of a hectic final few weeks of the calendar year.
Once more, Liverpool will prepare to meet Man City at Anfield on the cusp of a break.
And while this one arrives some weeks earlier at the beginning of October, three points either way could be imperative towards the destination of this season’s Premier League title.
After all, it certainly gave Alexander-Arnold and his colleagues their impetus.
A hurting Liverpool squad, one still likely to be seething at their injury misfortune last time out, will feel they are still the most likely challengers to City’s crown.
A strong showing at Anfield on October 2 could be enough to re-convince those outside the bubble.
Everton – Phil Kirkbride
Southampton (h) August 14
The opening game of the season may appear to be the obvious choice for Everton’s most pivotal fixture … because it is.
But how could it not be? The visit of Southampton at home on August 14 will, officially, signal the start of (yet) another new era at Goodison.
It will be the first home game for the new manager, whoever that turns out to be.
Not since Ian Buchan oversaw a 3-2 defeat to Blackpool in 1956 has an Everton manager lost their first ever game at Goodison.
In more recent times, Carlo Ancelotti helped inspire a narrow win over Burnley, Marco Silva’s side saw off Southampton while Sam Allardyce started with a win over Huddersfield (not West Ham as he likes to claim).
Quite how many fans will be inside the ground when the Saints travel to L4, who knows? But the new manager is sure to receive vociferous backing from the Everton faithful who, as history suggests, will expect him to get off to a good start.
Manchester City – Stuart Brennan
Chelsea (a) September 25
After three successive defeats, including the big Champions League final disappointment, Chelsea have suddenly become one of the teams Manchester City fans look for as they scan the newly-published fixture lists.
Thomas Tuchel’s side did not just deny the Blues their Holy Grail last month, they also served notice that they could be a prime contender for City’s English crown.
So the trip to Stamford Bridge on September 25 will be the first serious test of the Blues’ credentials in the new season, especially as they also face a trip to Anfield to play Liverpool the following weekend – with a Champions League group fixture jammed in between.
That hellish week comes after a mixed bag of a start, with tough trips to Tottenham and Leicester and home games with Norwich, Arsenal and Southampton.
Newcastle – Lee Ryder
Watford (a) September 25
Newcastle should be going to the newly promoted clubs and posting three points on the board after four seasons in a row back in the top-flight.
It’s something they have struggled with in the last two years, losing at Leeds and failing to beat West Brom last term.
OK they did beat a Fulham side that had already gone down on the last day in 2020/21 but the previous season they were beaten at Norwich and Aston Villa, although again in fairness managed to beat Sheffield United.
But a tally of four points from nine away to newly-promoted sides last term and three from nine the previous season offers room for improvement.
Certainly, beating sides that are just finding their feet back in the top-flight can be the difference between a comfortable season or one looking over your shoulder.
That’s why getting that win at Vicarage Road, where they lost 2-1 on their last visit and have failed to win a Premier League game at, is crucial.
There’s no such thing as a bad time to win in the Prem, but ahead of tougher trips to Wolves and Crystal Palace, and home games with Spurs and Chelsea, it might well be required for the Magpies if they are to make a decent fist of the first 12 weeks of the season.
Samuel Luckhurst – Manchester United
Liverpool (a) March 19 (for now)
One of the handful of filmed Sir Alex Ferguson team talks encapsulated his feelings about Anfield: “We lost the league at Anfield by not listening to the instructions about McManaman.”
Ferguson, addressing the United players at The Cliff in 1998, was referring to the 2-0 March 1995 defeat at Liverpool, where Steve McManaman fashioned an own goal from Steve Bruce for the clincher.
Paul Ince was tasked with staying on the left to stymie McManaman yet his positioning was awry for Jamie Redknapp’s opener and he allowed McManaman to drift past him for the second.
In the Steve Bruce’s Captain’s Log 2 documentary from the 1994-95 season, Ince is filmed in an overly jocular mood in the Anfield dressing room as kick-off looms. Back at The Cliff three years later, Ince was preparing to return to Old Trafford – with Liverpool.
“They’ve given Ince the license to attack without any defensive duties,” Ferguson witheringly begins. “But if he tries to bully you, he’ll f—— enjoy it… Don’t even let him attempt to bully you… Right… Youse just make sure you’re ready for him tomorrow. And that’s all you need to worry about him: His f—— big-time Charlie bit. He’s against f—— men, am I right?”
Even Roy Keane looks taken aback by Ferguson’s virulence.
The programme aired on the eve of Ince’s second appearance back at Old Trafford as a visiting player in September 1998. United prevailed 2-0 and the crowd chirped, “Charlie, Charlie, what’s the score?”
On his first managerial outing against United with Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park in 2008, Ince was treated to a rendition of, ‘Paul Ince is a Scouse b——‘ by 7,000 away-dayers. That is how deep an Anfield defeat cuts Ferguson and United followers.
The 2-0 reverse in 1992 was far worse: the day United lost the league to Leeds. The goading was incessant and a Liverpool fan unfurled a banner that read ‘Have you ever seen United win the league?’ Their drought had ticked past a quarter of a century.
The current wait for a United title is ticking towards a decade. Liverpool’s decade drought granted permission for supporters to pin a banner to the Stretford End in 2000 that read, ’10 years and counting’. Liverpool had to wait another 20 years and came close to a breakthrough on just three occasions (2009, 2014 and 2019) before they lifted the hex.
United have not mounted a credible championship challenge since they were last champions in 2013 and 10 years can quickly triple, particularly if the Glazers are still the bursars. The least that is expected from United fans next season is a genuine tilt after progressive league campaigns.
Already, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer must be hoping for a kinder Champions League group stage draw than last season. United play West Ham away, Everton at home, Liverpool at home, Manchester City at home, Chelsea away, and Norwich away following their six midweek group games. That is their three competitors, a top six side and the top flight’s most tedious trek. United will at least avoid the pedestrianisation of Norwich city centre as they will travel by air.
The summer window is officially open, and it’s going to be tough to keep up with the comings and goings in and out of the Emirates.
By signing up to our newsletter here, you’ll be kept up to date on the latest news and rumours as they break, all in one place. You’ll also receive exclusive insight and articles from club writers Chris Wheatley and Kaya Kaynak, all for free.
We also want to hear from you. Create an account here in just a few moments, so you can have your say on all things Arsenal, join the debate and take part in exclusive Q&As as well.
Provided United have a shout of reaching the summit after the snow has thawed then the timing of the Anfield fixture will be a test of nerve. It falls on the last weekend in March before the spring internationals.
There are few feelings more satisfying in a season for a manager and his squad than winning before a two-week break and it is essential United secure a positive result in L4 ahead of a tense run-in.
It may be tenser than scheduled. The FA is yet to outline the dates for the FA Cup and the quarter-finals fell on the last weekend before the March internationals in 2018, 2019 and this year. So there is a reasonable chance Liverpool-United could be delayed until April.
United have lost the league at Anfield in March and April before.
What do you think of Arsenal’s start? Let us know in the comments