When it mattered, Arsenal dug deep and summoned some true class to overcome a dogged Newcastle United and clinch a vital away win at St James' Park on Saturday evening.
With Aston Villa on the wrong end of a thrashing by Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday, it was a victory that consolidates the Gunners position in the top four going into next week's international break but, more importantly, it showed further proof that the team are beginning to rediscover their form just at the right time.
The first half at St James' Park was wide open and the action flowed from end to end from start to finish. It may have been entertaining fare for neutrals watching the match but for Arsenal and Newcastle fans it was simultaneously exhilarating and nerve-shredding. Neither midfield got to grips with dominating the game and, consequently, passages of play by both teams moved swiftly from back to front. The Geordies looked certain to take the lead when awarded a first-half penalty – Manuel Almunia having bundled over Ryan Taylor. The Spaniard immediately atoned for his error by saving Obafemi Martins' penalty. Arsenal also had their chances and only some desperate defending from Newcastle kept the scores level going into the break.
Following the interval, Arsenal finally asserted themselves over their hosts and took the lead through a magnificent header from Nicklas Bendtner in the 57th minute. Andrey Arshavin crossed from the left and the big Dane rose, craned his neck and steered the ball powerfully into the far top corner of the net. It was a richly deserved strike for a player who was in the thick of everything good that the Gunners' created during the match. Until his substitution with a couple of minutes left on the clock, Bendtner ran tirelessly, made himself constantly available and was pivotal in linking up the attacking play. He was unquestionably Arsenal's man of the match.
The joy of taking the lead was short-lived though as, a minute later, William Gallas failed to deal with a purposeful Martins' run and the Nigerian hit an immediate equaliser. With the Newcastle players and supporters fired up by the swift response, the young Arsenal team faced a stiff test of character. It was an examination they passed with flying colours though as, despite the setback of the equalising goal, they shrugged off any self-doubt, dominated possession and were soon back in front.
Abou Diaby may sometimes struggle with the defensive side of his game but he has proved on several occasions that he can be a very potent weapon when bursting forward from midfield. In the 64th minute he did just that and, after a neat interchange of passes, he sublimely stroked the ball into the net to restore the Gunners' advantage. Ten minutes later, Samir Nasri blasted home a fierce shot that put the match beyond Newcastle and ensured the three points were heading to North London.
It is a real shame that the domestic season has to be interrupted for international matches next week because there is a real sense that Arsenal are building some momentum as the business-end of the season approaches. Over the past month and with each match, the team have shown increased confidence and assuredness. As Andrey Arshavin gets fitter, he is becoming more influential and it is clear that he is a very talented and capable player. His style is more pragmatic than flashy but he has an intuitive football brain. He can produce effective and incisive passes during build-up play and there is no doubt he has a keen eye for goal once finding himself in shooting positions.
With Cesc Fabregas's return to action only a couple of weeks away, suddenly Arsenal's midfield looks a bit more loaded with creative options but someone in the central ranks has to do the hard graft to and Denilson has been something of an unsung hero over the past few months. He has really knuckled down and done his best to hold down the centre of midfield. Being a combative enforcer might not necessarily be his natural game but the experience he has gained in that role this season will set him in good stead for when the squad is back to full strength. His understated contribution deserves some recognition and praise.
So, with a fortnight until the next match to wait, Arsenal fans will be desperately hoping that the players going away on international duty - which, for a club like Arsenal, will be pretty much all of them - come back uninjured and ready to pick up against Manchester City on 4th April where they left off against Newcastle on Saturday.