The pressure is on

With the January transfer window now shut, the English Premier League has entered a crucial phase.

This is where the wheat is separated from the chaff, the time when the champions-elect flex their muscles.

The battle for a spot in the top four has also become a tense and exciting fight because these days the Champions League guarantees riches, prestige and worldwide attention.

While Arsenal have see-sawed between first and second in the Premiership in the first half of the season, the run of fixtures over the next two months suggests the Gunners could be the most vulnerable among the teams that currently occupy the top four, as Tottenham, Everton and Manchester United prime themselves for a push.

It is almost unthinkable, especially considering the Gunners are only a point off league leaders Manchester City in the title race.

INJURIES

Arsene Wenger's side are a cosy nine ahead of bitter London rivals Tottenham in fifth, but with injuries mounting, there is a sense the Gunners could be derailed, especially with the upcoming fixtures.

Arsenal host a rejuvenated Crystal Palace led by Tony Pulis tonight, and the league matches this month get more difficult with huge dates against Liverpool and Manchester United.

They then face Liverpool again in the FA Cup before a Champions League home-leg tie against Bayern Munich. It doesn't get much better for Wenger's men in next month with Bayern, Spurs, Chelsea and Man City in the horizon.

It is a nightmare schedule that could be too much for the Arsenal squad as far as their title aspirations go, because City and third-placed Chelsea have far greater strength in depth.

But experience is crucial in the business end of the season, and I think Arsenal's "been there, done that" mentality will see them keep their membership in the exclusive Champions League club.

I actually think Liverpool, in fourth spot just three points ahead of Spurs and six in front of champions United, who are seventh, have it all to do.

The Merseysiders look the most vulnerable to fall out of the top four by the end of next month because they have been too inconsistent this season.

Despite the blossoming of the partnership between Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, the Reds have a frail defence and have already dropped crucial points.

You only have to look to their 2-2 draw against Aston Villa for evidence.

Brendan Rodgers (left) doesn't have the experience to handle a charge for a top-four place. I just think he tries too hard to keep players happy.

His players also don't have the experience for such a race and will be vulnerable when the matches come thick and fast and nerves start to jangle.


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