LONDON (Reuters) – By Arsene Wenger’s own admission, last week’s international break could hardly have come at a worse time for Arsenal.
After a torrid start to the season featuring a 1-0 defeat at Stoke City and 4-0 humiliation away to Liverpool, Wenger’s side rallied by taking 10 points from their next four Premier League matches and winning both of their Europa League group games.
They scored 15 goals and conceded three, Wenger’s critics were temporarily quietened and Arsenal’s points tally rose largely unnoticed to 13, level with champions Chelsea in fourth and one behind third-placed local rivals Tottenham Hotspur.
“I would have loved to be able to continue to play, but we cannot do anything about that,” the Frenchman lamented a 2-0 home win over Brighton & Hove Albion on Oct. 1 before the break.
The challenge facing Wenger now is to ensure his team pick up where they left off. Their next three league matches are visits to in-form Watford and out-of-form Everton and then a home game against Swansea City, who sit third-bottom.
A trip to Belgrade to take on Crvena Zvedza in the Europa League and a home League Cup tie against Norwich City complete a month which the current league standings would suggest is far from the toughest on the Gunners’ calendar.
If they get through it unscathed, Arsenal will reach November unbeaten in 12 matches in all competitions, possibly in the top four of the Premier League, and with one foot in the knockout stages of the Europa League.
Yet improved points tallies and momentum are not the only rewards on offer, because a good month could also strengthen Arsenal’s hand in contract negotiations with Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil, both of whom Wenger has said might leave in January.
Win six out of six games in October and the pair may be tempted to extend their deals, but slip-ups against Watford, Everton or Swansea could just as easily nudge them closer to the exit door and stir up more interest from Europe’s top clubs.
Much depends on the outcome of the game at Watford on Saturday. Former Arsenal forward turned pundit Paul Merson has been one of Wenger’s harshest critics of late but even he has said a win at Vicarage Road would be “a big result” for Arsenal.