Gunners relinquish another lead, this time against bitter rivals Tottenham at White Hart Lane, as Frenchman's rallying cry appears to be falling on deaf ears
By Jamie Dunn
“I believe it is…essential that we give absolutely every drop of blood to do it. We want to show we have the mental dimension to play for this club.”
That was the rallying cry from Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger after watching his side snatch despair from the jaws of elation once again at the Emirates on Sunday, this time handing Liverpool a penalty and ultimately a 1-1 draw with no time left to play.
Wenger recognised that, after managing to win only one of their last seven games in all competitions, his young side would need to respond in emphatic fashion against their bitter north London rivals Tottenham at White Hart Lane on Wednesday night.
And for a while it looked like Wenger’s young Gunners had done just that, as Theo Walcott raced onto a defence-scything pass from the brilliant as ever Cesc Fabregas to beat Heurelho Gomes and give Arsenal a lead after just five minutes.
Spurs would respond with an equally incisive move two minutes later as Corluka lifted the ball into the path of Rafael van der Vaart, who controlled and fired past Wojciech Szczesny.
But Arsenal rallied again, first through Samir Nasri’s cool 20 yard finish, before Robin van Persie put them 3-1 up, lashing into the roof of the net from close range. Game over surely?
We're gunner win this one | Arsenal raced to a 3-1 lead in the first half
For likely Premier League champions Manchester United, probably, but when Arsenal are involved, the final result is seldom beyond doubt at this time of year.
First, a weak Fabregas clearance found Tom Huddlestone on the edge of penalty area, and the midfielder needed no invitation to send a rasping left-footed shot through several bodies and past a motionless Szczesny.
Then Aaron Lennon was brought down inside the box by the Pole as he chased down an inviting pass, leaving Martin Atkinson with little choice but to award a penalty, which Van der Vaart duly converted.
The game ended 3-3 and it had happened again; just like against Liverpool, Newcastle, Wigan and indeed Tottenham at the Emirates, Arsenal had let crucial points slip from winning positions – and that’s only counting this season. Gomes was forced into a couple of saves but had it not been for Szczesny, Wenger would be bemoaning the loss of three points rather than praising the acquisition of one.
To make matters worse, Wenger’s side had been handed a lifeline in the title race on Monday night as Sir Alex Ferguson’s men stuttered to goalless draw against Newcastle at St James’ Park, giving Arsenal the perfect chance to close the gap on the league leaders, which they failed to take.
"Had it not been for Szczesny, Wenger would be bemoaning the loss of three points rather than praising the acquisition of one"
Meanwhile, on the same evening as the draw with Spurs, a seemingly rejuvenated Chelsea were sending Birmingham City back to the Midlands having beaten them 3-1 at Stamford Bridge, a margin big enough to see Carlo Ancelotti’s side leapfrog Arsenal into second, if only on goal difference.
After the draw at White Hart Lane, Wenger insisted the title race is still not over. Mathematically at least, he is correct.
But the post-match spin applied by the Professor will have many Gunners fans scratching their heads.
"This team has a remarkable attitude, they are remarkably consistent," he said. "It is open, it is down to us to keep battling."
Whether his highly-talented if inexperienced charges can show the “mental dimension” to recover from this latest setback with desperately required back-to-back wins over Bolton Wanderers on Sunday and title rivals United the following week, however, remains to be seen.