Sunday, March 29, 2020
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In yesterday's early kick-off Arsenal managed to overpower the reigning Premiership and Champions League holders, a result that may have large connotations for the remainder of the season. Whilst the result wasn't emphatic it was an impressive marker to lay down, the stats suggest it was close and the game was unusually quick and end to end for one of these types of encounters.

For the second half Arsenal for the most part effectively quelled Manchester United's attacking potency, with the one major scare coming immediately after Nasri's second goal, when to the delight of the home support he dragged a half volley wide when he really should have scored. In fact the game really should have petered out into a stroll for the home team but there was an incredibly nervous six minutes of injury time after Rafeal de Silva halved United's deficit with a sweet finish, only in these last moments was there a real need for concern accompanied with flashbacks to the horrendous surrender of points to Tottenham. 

Arsenal have come in for a lot of criticism in the press recently, most of which stemmed from the capitulation of their lead against Tottenham a couple of weeks ago. Whilst some of the critics have made valid points, myself included, there has perhaps been an over zealous eagerness by some to write off Wenger and his team. It has become a popular mantra over the last couple of seasons to speak of Arsenal at times playing some of the best and attractive club football in Europe. During the same period there have been as big a number of detractors who state that Arsenal may be pretty but they lack the stomach for the fight. Last seasons drop off in results after leading the Premiership into March has been the source for some of this criticism. 



This does seem to be a little unfair when you consider that before last season started Arsenal were in some eyes facing the abyss after the loss of Thierry Henry. Instead they confounded many fans and pundits alike with their slick football and could ultimately take great heart from the development of a squad that is still young and learning. The press naturally feed off of any signs of weakness particularly amongst the bigger clubs, and so perhaps the recent mixed attitudes towards Arsenal should be of little surprise. 


Where Arsenal have simply failed in the last three seasons is in their ability to match their past successes and high standards. Football as all sports is judged upon winning the big prizes and there are few memories for the 'so near and yet so far's'. Indeed it is only a little over two years since Arsenal were ten agonising minutes away from winning the Champions League themselves, Henrik Larsson came on as a replacement set up two goals and snatched away the one major trophy to allude Wenger thus far. 


Really yesterday's defeat of Manchester United should have been of little surprise, Arsenal fans and those who understand the game know deep down that Arsenal are more than capable of beating any team on their day, it may be a slight cliche but it is very much true. The frustration is in realising this and then having to bear witness to their plights against Hull and Stoke earlier this season. Arsenal are definitely in this years title race and shouldn't be underestimated, the result against United was a must win even at this early stage and yet they showed the character that has been lacking recently to rise above the doubters.


The big if is whether or not Wenger can get the current Arsenal squad in their current stage of development to invoke the spirit of the 'Invincibles' squad. It may well be necessary for Wenger to break a habit of a lifetime and try to add to the playing staff during the January transfer window, there are definite and significant funds available for a boost mid-season. I believe Arsenal's squad is very close to challenging on all fronts but there wouldn't be any harm in strengthening its depth and experience, Gattusso was strongly rumoured in the summer and a solid midfielder like him would add that extra layer of steel. 

Most importantly what they need to acquire is the consistency and the attitude to achieve a result even when they are not at their flowing best, Manchester United and Chelsea (under Mourhinho at least) have taken these character traits and converted them into trophies in recent times- that's the difference. If Arsenal can get their killer instinct in place and treat all their Premiership opponents like Manchester United, then they will be very close to the acclaim their potential alludes to.

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