In the space of a few days, we’ve seen how one draw can bring disappointment, while another one brought with it much-needed hope for the near future.
Arsene Wenger described the past week as a “nightmare” and for a while it seemed like it was only going to get worse. An all-too-common surrendering of possession in midfield led to us conceding from a counter-attack from title favourites Manchester City. Very few would have bet on us recovering from that first half setback.
But recover we did, and then some. A different Arsenal emerged after the break, pressing and harrying the Man City players into hurried passes and shots. No one led that effort more than Mathieu Flamini, who more than deserved his goal after another outstanding all-action display.
This is the Arsenal we’ve been missing – one that fights for every ball and takes it to the opposition. This attitude was absent in our recent capitulations at Anfield and Stamford Bridge, but we have now shown several times that we can match the big boys on home soil.
In particular, the defence was outstanding once more even without the injured Laurent Koscielny. Apart from the goal and a late scare when Yaya Toure’s close-range shot was blocked, we repelled most of Man City’s attacks and restricted them to long-range efforts. We’ve now conceded just two goals at home against the top right – that is some record to crow about.
As for the other end of the field, Lukas Podolski showed exactly what I talked about after our midweek draw with Swansea. Lack of cover for Kieran Gibbs early on led to City launching many attacks down that side and it was Podolski who lost the ball leading up to City’s goal. Still, he improved after the break and provided another excellent assist from the left flank. He’s a real asset going forward, but we can’t always afford to give up defensive discipline (and goals) against the big teams.
Still, we were well on top by the time the match ended and on another day we might have snatched all three points if Podolski had converted his chance shortly after the equaliser. But this almost feels like a victory, given the level of opposition and the positive attitude we brought to the second half. The hope is that the restorative benefits from this draw will have a similar effect to our 2-0 away win over Bayern last season.
We are firm outsiders for the title now, but we’ll be done with most of our tough matches after next week’s clash with Everton. Liverpool are the front runners at this point but they have to host the other teams in the top three, so someone’s definitely dropping points. If we remain professional and consistent for the last few games, I have every confidence that we will reel some team in and finish higher up the table.
Over the next two weeks, people will be talking about our battle with Everton for fourth spot and our search for silverware in the FA Cup. And that’s fine with me. Securing a Champions League spot and winning trophies are reasonable aims we should hope to achieve, given where we are now.
But the eternal optimist in me still holds on to a vision: a vision of us creeping closer to the top relatively unnoticed in the coming weeks and coming within a couple of points leading into the final round of fixtures.
And then what? You know, a lot can happen in the short space of 90 minutes. Just ask Man City fans. They might remember some stuff from two years ago.
Come on you Gunners!