Arsenal got the much needed breakthrough they have needed in recent weeks.
The current mishap began for the Gunners in mid-October when they lost their Week 8 Premier League game at Norwich. This is a match most thought Arsenal could win and probably should have won, but an indifferent performance ensured they’d begin to ensnare themselves in terms of confidence.
It wasn’t surprising then when they followed this weekend defeat with another defeat in the Champions League to Schalke 04 four days later.
This defeat was deserved. Here, an abject Arsenal couldn’t seem to find any sort of cohesion or resolve against a well-oiled Schalke side. A 2-0 defeat at home to a European opponent was Arsenal’s first in a long time.
Arsenal’s Week 9 performance in the Premier League against QPR at home continued the train begun at Norwich, reinforced against Schalke and now was becoming a habit.
Arsenal toiled hard but incoherently to beat QPR via a scrappy goal, which—though much appreciated afterward, since it gave Arsenal the much-needed three points for the week—was a product of fortune. Replays showed that the goal could have been ruled out for offside.
Arteta scores against QPR to give Arsenal some hope. Getty Images.
Against Reading in the League Cup three days later, Arsenal began with the same tune and had fortune to thank again for bailing them out. They had conspired to lose the game in the first 30 minutes of the match, having conceded four quick goals through horrid defending.
The second half saw them pushing sure and hard to redeem their pride, a bid to narrow the scoreline a little, make it respectable. In the end, 12 goals were scored in this match: seven to Arsenal and five to Reading. An impotent and an indifferent beginning ended as a night of triumph for the Gunners.
But the rhythm of the team’s form continued at the weekend at Manchester United, where both sides put on one the sorriest performances one will ever see in the Premier League. Arsenal’s performance was totally abject, which is why Manchester United, who were just a little better than the Gunners, carried the day via a 2-1 scoreline.
This picture symbolizes Arsenal's form prior to the Spurs game. Getty Images.
At this point it was apparent that Arsenal were in trouble. Fans expressed their discontent and disapproval.
Harry Redknapp, the former Tottenham Hotspur manager, thought that this team may not reach their minimum benchmark of constantly finishing in the top four on the Premiership table this year; if they did, it’d be Arsene Wenger's greatest achievement of his long reign as Arsenal’s manager. (See Redknapp's comment in this Guardian article by Nachin Sakrani.)
Three days later in the Champions League, needing the to arrest their alarming slide in quality and determination, Arsenal traveled to Germany to confront Schalke 04 in the rematch of their 2-0 defeat a fortnight earlier. They needed a win or at least a draw.
Arsenal began well, scoring two quick goals and leaving Schalke shell-shocked, but it all unraveled in the long run, although Arsenal achieved their minimum objective of securing a draw to keep their hope of advancing in the Champions League alive. The match ended with two goals apiece.
Last week in the Premier League, the recalibration that fans needed to see seemed to show nascent form. Arsenal, just like at Schalke, scored two quick goals and seemed on their way to an easy and emphatic victory at home at the Emirates to Fulham.
Amazingly though, or let’s say not surprisingly, Arsenal threw away their two-goal lead and nearly lost the match, going down 3-2 some time in the second half. Although they did battle back to tie the match, this was a very disappointing performance.
It was no wonder then that a strong feeling of unrest has overspread the atmosphere around the team. Fans are not happy. They want to see the team’s latent promise manifesting in tangible results.
For myself, I remain convinced that the sale of Alex Song, one of the team’s best players last season, has contributed to this problem.
You don’t remove your two best players and not suffer. In the case of Song, it has been because he played an important role for the team, even though he remains misunderstood and underrated by a large swath of Gooners.
He provided great thrust and invention for the team at the back. This complemented Mikel Arteta’s game of providing the grit and the steadiness in the middle.
Abou Diaby compensated for the loss of Song, bringing to the team his own unique abilities, but the fact that he can’t keep fit means Arsenal have been without their customary imposing presence in the midfield, and without this, it has meant disjointed and jittery performances.
Injury to Abou Diaby, who began the season with dominating performance for Arsenal, has adversely affected Arsenal's midfield. Getty Images.
In Saturday's match against Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal began where they left off last week: playing without confidence, thrust or cohesion. In the first 15 minutes, it looked like Spurs were the home team, playing a high line and pressing Arsenal for the second ball.
Arsenal would retreat and retreat when attacked. This meant putting pressure on their own goal area. When Spurs took the lead in the 10th minute through former Gunner Emmanuel Adebayor, it looked like Arsenal were set for a long day.
At this point Arsenal hadn’t even troubled the Tottenham goal, while they themselves had been put under pressure, had been torn apart on two occasions. Had the match continued in this vein, I do not see how Spurs couldn’t have won the day.
But yet again, fortune intervened, much like it did for the team against QPR and at Reading in that crazy 7-5 game.
Whatever it was that prompted Adebayor to go into that lunging, two-footed challenge with raised cleats against Arsenal’s Santi Cazorla may remain a mystery. There is little doubt, though, that this is the incident that altered the complexion of the match in Arsenal’s favor.
Much as Spurs fans will grumble about this result, saying that but for the red card they’d had whipped Arsenal’s butt, what they need to realize is that a match is a sum of its incidents. The development that forces a player to go into a rash challenge is part of the opposing team’s powers, strategy and credit.
The fact that something (that Arsenal did), perhaps the mere fact that Santi Cazorla was on the ball, and perhaps the possibility that the manager may have instructed that Cazorla be neutralized in the match—that is, not be allowed on the ball—may have been the subconscious factor that caused Adebayor’s inexplicable rash challenge.
In any event, that dismissal gave Arsenal the advantage in the match—an advantage they duly took and put to maximum use.
That challenge was a moment of serendipity for Arsenal, and this is confirmed by the coincidental 5-2 scoreline, which mirrors the result of the corresponding fixture at the Emirates last season when Arsenal came from two goals down to wound Spurs’ pride. That was an incident that contributed to the team’s demise in the second half of that season’s campaign while reviving Arsenal’s chances in the same campaign.
It turned out to be a good day for Arsenal: They trashed their bitterest rival. But is this the beginning of the team’s revival, much like the victory in the corresponding fixture last season was one? The next three weeks will give us the inkling one way or the other.
Arsenal's humiliation of Spurs at the Emirates last season was the catalyst they needed to revive their season. Getty Images.
On Wednesday, Arsenal take on Montpellier at the Emirates in a continuation of this season’s Champions League campaign.
Anything less than a victory here will not be good enough. At the weekend, the team will tackle Aston Villa away, then in midweek Everton, a team currently on a good run, even though it lost its match this weekend.
Arsenal need results in these two fixtures, preferably victories. In fact, if this is a revival at all, then we shouldn’t expect anything less than victories in these matches.
Afterwards, in the first eight days of December, Arsenal will be at home to Swansea City and West Bromwich Albion in the Premier League, while they’ll travel to Greece to confront Olympiacos in the final game of the Champions League group stage campaign. Victories in these three matches are expedient.
So is it a revival? We’d have to wait until mid-December to determine whether or not it is.
Harry Redknapp does not believe this current Arsenal team is good enough. Getty Images.