By Joe Doyle
The obituaries were already being written for Arsenal and their manager Arsene Wenger as little as a week ago and so their 5-2 win over rivals Tottenham in the north London derby was the most important performance of the season.
The Gunners recovered from two goals down to banish their demons, storming to victory with thanks to this season’s noted under-performers Theo Walcott and Tomas Rosicky.
Recent results suggested time could be up on Wenger’s 15-year-reign at Arsenal. Following titles, cups and the unforgettable 'Invincibles' season, it looked like his number could be up with a string of defeats against AC Milan, Sunderland, Manchester United, Swansea and Fulham since the turn of the year.
Certainly, the manager’s approach to the club has been questioned. Do Arsenal have a ‘Plan B’ when on the back foot? Why doesn’t Wenger spend more money? These questions are understandable, and in fact still remain as they look to rescue their season and press on next year.
He has even faced questioning within his own team, as captain Robin van Persie demanded answers on the pitch when Andrey Arshavin replaced Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in their eventual defeat to Manchester United.
They will probably still finish below Tottenham this season, with the gap currently standing at seven points between the two clubs, and Spurs are highly likely to gain Champions League football, even if a title challenge is now beyond them.
|A YEAR TO FORGET
Arsenal's annus horribilis
|Feb 27 2011
||League Cup final defeat
|Apr 24 2011
||Bolton loss ends title hopes
|Aug 15 2011
||Fabregas sold to Barcelona
|Aug 24 2011
||Nasri joins Manchester City
|Aug 28 2011
||Hammered 8-2 at Old Trafford
|Oct 2 2011
||Spurs win north London derby
||3 league games lost in a row|
|Feb 15 2012
||Humiliated 4-0 by AC Milan|
Harry Redknapp’s side have acquired some outstanding talent under the leadership of Daniel Levy – and kept it too, with Luka Modric a prime example of how to hold onto key players.
Arsenal, by comparison, have lost their two greatest playmakers in recent seasons, with Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas ushered out of the door as contract talks broke down and a Catalan dreamt of returning home, respectively.
Forced to rebuild, Wenger brought in Mikel Arteta. A good player, no doubt, but with the fans calling for outstanding replacements for Fabregas and Nasri, he wasn’t exactly the acquisition many had hoped for.
There are also still questions remaining over the future of Van Persie, and he is a player they must keep if they are to challenge for the title next season. The striker is in a similar position to Nasri was, with his contract expiring in the summer of 2013.
The Dutchman has insisted that talks will resume in the summer, and that there is nothing “sinister” going on behind the scenes. However, the club will need to reassure him with some good players coming through the doors this year.
With all these recent events, Wenger’s team faced a big challenge up against the most exciting team of the season so far. And in the opening stages, it seemed they weren’t up to the task.
But, during a dramatic 28 minutes, the hosts transformed the scoreline from 2-0 down to 5-2 up. A quite ridiculous performance, all things considered, and their best one since the first-leg victory over Barcelona in the Champions League last year.
Having already lost to Spurs this season, as well as twice to Manchester United and once to Manchester City, they needed to prove they can still cut it against top sides as they were forced to do in their 2-1 win over the eventual champions of Europe.
Since last season's capitulation against Birmingham in the League Cup final, which came a year to the day before this game against Spurs, Arsenal have lost 18 times in all competitions.
Had they gone on to lose, it would have taken a lot to realistically convince players of Van Persie’s stature (or any they wished to sign in the summer), that they had the ability to compete for a Premier League title in the coming years.
They would have been level on points with Newcastle, 10 behind Spurs and 20 behind Roberto Mancini’s league leaders.
To defeat a team of Tottenham’s standing in the league by such a convincing margin is no mean feat. The two goals scored before half-time boosted the confidence of the team immeasurably and the living embodiment of this was Walcott.
The England winger looked desperate, quite frankly, in the first half. His passing was off, and his decision making poor. The fans were booing him and calling for a substitution but, as the winger neatly chipped the ball over Brad Friedel for the fourth, you could almost see the weight lifting from his shoulders.
He burst through again, beating the offside trap to add another, and he was suddenly in full flow. It may even get some of the more dissenting fans to support him and in turn produce better performances from him in the future.
This match will give him and the rest of the team a surge of confidence for the rest of the season but it means nothing if they cannot keep up the results. It will be a difficult task that starts next week at Anfield, against a Liverpool team also on a high following their League Cup win on penalties against Cardiff.
But, if they can keep results coming and retain the confidence they earned from a fixture this significant, the future may not be as dark as some had envisaged only a week ago.