Regardless of how many or how few trophies they capture, Arsenal fans have much to celebrate on a day when their team beat Chelsea for the first time in three years.
And they did it without playing anywhere near their best.
Here’s a look at which Gunners excelled and which Gunners struggled in this weekend’s London Derby at Emirates Stadium.
The Starting Eleven:
Manuel Almunia (9): The talk about Manuel Almunia—from fans, neutrals and rivals alike—is that no one is sure if he is good enough to be Arsenal’s number-one netminder.
That question, like Arsenal’s chances for a cup, won’t be answered anytime soon. But Almunia made the best case for himself yet with his finest performance in a Gunners kit. Even when Chelsea looked like they might score, particularly from long range, Almunia was in the right place making the right save.
No doubt Shevchenko is still trying to figure out how his dipping, swerving strike didn’t go in.
Bacary Sagna (8): Sagna’s performance was standard Sagna. He was pacey, solid at the back, a threat going forward, always calm and always in control. If he were a lesser back, he may have had a higher rating—but as it stood today, he was just slightly better than one would expect.
Kolo Toure (7): Not a bad game for Arsenal’s Ivorian running machine—but not his best either. There were a couple of moments when Joe Cole and Shevchenko put him on the back foot, but he always recovered. Solid work—albeit, not as solid as usual.
William Gallas (9): Clearly, Arsenal’s man of the match. He scored the only goal; he stuck himself in whenever and wherever he was needed; and he bossed the game from the back as only a true Captain can.
We talk often about the moves that Arsene made in the off-season—selling Henry and picking up Sagna—but the best move he made was making Gallas captain. It was the final ingredient needed to make Gallas great. Until he stepped into Henry’s boots he was only very, very good. Now he is Arsenal’s best Captain since Patrick Vieira—and none of us imagined that would be possible.
Gael Clichy (7): Although he was his defensively stingy self at the back, Gael Clichy lost something going forward. Credit to Chelsea for forcing him to stay deep, but Clichy could have done more.
Emmanuel Eboue (6): Everyone’s most-hated Gunner (including Arsenal fans), Eboue probably made more enemies today because of John Terry’s injury. That isn’t entirely fair since it didn’t look intentional, and Terry’s follow-through is more to blame than anything Eboue did, but his consistently chippy behaviour makes it hard to say he’s innocent of anything.
Beyond that talking point, Eboue simply wasn’t as effective as he needs to be. His shooting was poor, and he consistently ignored Sagna’s overlapping runs to push the ball into the middle of the park where Chelsea’s blue wall was more than willing to shut up shop. His decision making—on every front—must improve.
Cesc Fabregas (6): It is impressive that even when he is a shadow of himself, as he was today, Cesc Fabregas still seems to have an impact. His ability to start moves, pick up passes and create space caused Chelsea trouble throughout, but he was simply not himself. He can be better—much better. And let’s face it, he should have scored twice.
Fabregas also took a totally unnecessary yellow card. Even if it was extrememly satisfying for Arsenal fans, Fabregas needs to control his temper.
Mathieu Flamini (7): This is the hardest rating to give. Flamini’s game is a tough one to read. He works so hard, and he is so solid cleaning up the messes of Hleb and Fabregas that on a day like today—when there were more messes than usual—one wants to give him a higher rating.
Yet Flamini made some poor passes, some poor challenges, and offered very little going forward. Offense may not be his role, but Flamini’s best games come when he is doing it all. This wasn’t one of his best.
Thomas Rosicky (6): The injuries to Hleb, Flamini and Fabregas seem to have hurt Rosicky more than anyone else. He had a moment or two of magical ball movement, and he played a solid defensive game, but Rosicky looked very tired. Being the only first choice midfielder available for the last three games looks to be taking its toll. He needs to rest against Blackburn.
Alexander Hleb (7): Hleb really is the best dribbler in English football. Watching the ball at his feet is one of the most beautiful parts of Arsenal’s game, but he was lacking in the final third. He just couldn’t thread that killer pass through to Adebayor, and that is what Hleb is there for. Still, having him back healthy is a great boost for the squad before Tottenham's visit to Emirates.
Emmanuel Adabeyor (7): Adebayor really needs to work on the timing of his runs and his discipline when his back is to goal. Deadly moves grind to a halt when he’s caught offside—which occurs far more consistently than it did with Henry—and silly fouls, like his niggly, goal nullifying foul on Ben Haim, are no help at all. He needed to play better than he did against Chelsea.
Robin van Persie (8): Van Perie is the man Arsenal have missed most over the last couple of months. His scoring boots are deadlier than Adebayor's, and his thirty minutes against Chelsea proved just how dangerous he is. The moment he came on the pitch Arsenal looked good for another goal.
He had the best Arsenal chances of the game, had a goal called back through no fault of his own—if it had counted his rating would certainly have gone up—and he scared the shorts right off Chelsea’s back four. Robin van Persie’s in-form return is the best news Arsene Wenger could have had in December.
Gilberto Silva (6): These days, Gilberto is always a step down in quality from the prime Arsenal squad. He is not terrible, as some would have us believe, but he is not as good as any of those he comes on for. Still, he is solid as a sub and can usually be counted on not to make any major mistakes—and he didn't against Chelsea. Unfortunately, he made no impact whatsoever.
Nicklas Bendtner (10): The giant Dane didn’t put a foot wrong in his one minute of play. Besides, I had to give someone a ten.