That’s one down and 12 to go. One game at a time and the home stretch doesn’t look as daunting as it did for the last fortnight.
This was a week where everyone was taking pot shots at Arsene Wenger and his Arsenal charges. From Fleet Street hacks to despondent Arsenal ’customers,’ from opposing team’s players to the tea lady at Stamford Bridge—criticism of the Arsenal team has been dished out in plenty from all corners.
Wenger observed that it was funny how Arsenal’s qualities are lauded when the team is winning by playing champagne football, yet quickly identified as the team’s Achilles' heel when the Gunners hit a difficult patch.
It was never going to be a straight forward game last night. The air of doom and gloom around the Gooner nation, coupled with the collective naval gazing and low spirits that haunted the environs of London Colney, made last night’s task an arduous affair.
If there’s one thing that stood out most, it’s the sheer determination of the Arsenal players to put things right. It was the way they each played for one another and took responsibility for their individual and collective roles.
In the last two defeats, the way Arsenal gave away the counter attacking goals was as painful to the players as it was to supporters. There were already signs during the Chelsea game that some work had gone into the collective team effort, especially in the second half of the game at Stamford Bridge.
There was more evidence yesterday of the teams determination to fight. Liverpool gave a fistful as they sought to take advantage of what was comically described by a certain player as a one-dimensional Arsenal style.
One dimensional it wasn’t, for Arsenal most definitely mixed it and rightfully gained a result for the spirited effort.
If you believe everything you read, you would have gotten the impression that there was a runaway train with the title contenders sitting above Arsenal in the league table.
Perhaps what made the victory against Liverpool sweeter was the fact that elsewhere, other teams who recently accused Arsenal of being predictable were themselves employing predictable one-dimensional tactics in trying to retrieve a sticky situation at the hands of the Toffees .
The Arsenal players will have drawn encouragement from the fact that their endeavour was also supported by the loss of three and two points for Chelsea and Manchester United respectively.
The title challenge that seemed to have slipped their grip was tilted back in the Gunner’s direction by a twist of fate that smiled kindly. All Arsenal can do is take it one game at a time and ensure that they aim for maximum points.
Man United and Chelsea still have more points to drop and it’s paramount that Arsenal focus on doing what is in their control—and that is fighting tooth and nail for every point they can get in the last 12 games.
The spirit and work rate that the Gunners employed last night will have earned them the belief and confidence needed to approach the next stage of the campaign. The most impressive aspect for me last night was the way the players defended as a team. I would have been happy with a draw simply based on the shift that the team put in—but of course, I’m ecstatic about the win.
A classic example of how this team ethic was supplemented by individual responsibility was shown by William Gallas. The veteran defender literally took no prisoners when a through ball acquainted David N’gog with the whites of Almunia’s eyes.
Gallas appeared from nowhere just as the Liverpool striker was about to pull the trigger and executed the text book definition of a world class tackle. That single incident alone was enough to galvanize players and supporters alike.
It was also heart warming and kind of amusing to note that for a change, very few if any Arsenal fans left the stadium before Howard Webb blew the final whistle. In fairness though, the Arsenal crowd did stand up to be counted, despite a slow start.
All in all, it is a brighter day in the Gooner nation, if only to return to our world famous refrain of ’One nil to the Arsenal.'