Arsenal's victory at Stamford Bridge last weekend was as vital as it was unexpected. Dogged by injuries and inconsistent form, even the most optimistic supporters might have been forgiven for thinking that a draw was the best that could be hoped for prior to the match. Certainly, expectation levels dropped even further when Chelsea took full advantage of a poor throw from Manuel Almunia and Jose Boswinga's cross into the danger area forced Johan Djourou to put the ball into his own net. It was an unfortunate goal to concede and made the Gunners' task seemingly impossible.
The tide of the game turned though on the hour when Robin Van Persie scored an equaliser out of nothing. The Dutchman received the ball in an offside position and, as the Chelsea defenders looked to the linesman, he rifled the ball past Petr Cech into the top corner. The home team felt rightly aggrieved that the goal was allowed, but every team suffers and benefits from decisions like that over the course of the season and these things tend to even themselves out. It was a slice of luck for Arsenal but in a season where fortune has been in short supply for the Gunners, they did not look a gift horse in the mouth and helped themselves to an equaliser.
There were no arguments about Van Persie's second goal a few moments later. A freekick from Cesc Fabregas was nodded down by Emmanuel Adebayor and the Dutchman, with his back to goal, hit a fierce shot on the spin that Cech could not keep out. Arsenal were two-one up and in dreamland but, with half an hour to go, it was a long time for them to hold on.
In recent seasons, Chelsea have tended to wrest matches from Arsenal in the final third of games. Their strength and power in the latter stages of contests have undone the Gunners on several occasions. Therefore, with thirty minutes still on the clock, Arsenal fans braced themselves for an onslaught from the home team. Strangely though, this never materialised. Whether the Blues just had an off-day or this signals a change in the effectiveness of their team, it was as if Van Persie's second goal drained all the fight and impetus from them. As it was, Wenger's men held onto their lead rather easily and the joy and relief that the final whistle brought was achieved without any heart-stopping moments.
The result was vital insofar as defeat would have cut Arsenal adrift and they would be fighting for fourth place as also-rans. The victory put them back on the fringes of the title race and Liverpool's goalless draw on Monday night also helped matters. Despite last weekend working out very well for the Gunners, a real test of their credentials and of whether they have learned some lessons from their five defeats this season will come when Wigan visit Ashburton Grove on Saturday. It will provide the perfect opportunity for them to dispel the perception that they can rise to the big occasion against the bigger teams but do not approach matches against so-called lesser teams with the same concentration and application.
Elsewhere this week the young guns' Carling Cup adventure came to an end at Burnley. After their scintillating victories against Sheffield United and Wigan, this performance was a damp squib and the whole team appeared to collectively have a bad day at the office. That said, the boys still created enough chances to have won the game, having had six one-on-ones with the goalkeeper and spurning each of them. In the final analysis, this game will have to be put down as a "good learning experience" for the young players but one does wonder whether a few of them might have shot themselves in the foot with regard to catching the manager's eye and improving their first-team chances later in the season. Certainly, Arsene Wenger seemed more irritated and overtly critical of the performance in his post-match interview than is usual when explaining a defeat. Still, with the FA Cup just around the corner, a few of these young players do look likely to feature again this season.
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