Having built up a good head of steam prior to the international break, there was a concern that the interruption to the Premier League programme might disrupt Arsenal's momentum. Any worries on this score though were completely dispelled at Ashburton Grove yesterday as the Gunners cantered to victory over Manchester City. Making returns from their respective injuries, Cesc Fabregas and Emmanuel Adebayor combined twice with the Spaniard putting chances on a plate for the Togo player who scored both goals in the two-nil win.
Seeing Fabregas back in action was both a relief and a joy. He might be short of match fitness but it hardly showed. Immediately, he was at the centre of the action and kept the Arsenal machine ticking over until his late subsitution. His pinpoint freekick onto an unmarked Adebayor's head which led to the Gunners' opening goal was deadly accurate. This was only surpassed by the assist for the second goal. Fabregas's sublime, perfectly-weighted chip dropped into the Togolese's path and the striker was able to control the ball, take it around Shay Given in the City goal and tap it home. The Spaniard's pass showed the sort of vision, guile and quality that has been lacking in Arsenal's midfield during his absence.
The Gunners dominated the entire match and City rarely threatened. As the game wore on it resembled something of an afternoon stroll in the North London sunshine. Of course though, the victory was hugely significant as it opened up a gap of six points over Aston Villa who have to face Manchester United on Sunday. It was also a chance for Fabregas, Adebayor and Theo Walcott to stretch their legs after their respective injuries ahead of Tuesday's crucial visit to Spain to take on Villareal in the first leg of the Champions League quarter final.
Suddenly, with the return of this batch of players, Arsene Wenger does seem to have plenty of options to hand. Samir Nasri was missing with flu yesterday but he and Andrey Arshavin will help augment Fabregas's creative efforts in midfield. With Van Persie, Adebayor, Bendtner and Eduardo all fit and available up front, the manager has four different styles of striker on which to draw upon. It is arguable that the team still lacks steel in midfield. Denilson had a decent game against Manchester City but Alex Song still looks very weak in the tackle. When required though, Wenger does mitigate for this by deploying a five-man midfield and it has proved effective when the team has required a more defensive configuration. That said, it would still seem essential for a combative midfield player to be acquired in the summer.
With so many important games coming thick and fast in the next month and a half it is vital that the squad stays as fit as it can. Arsenal have to face the top three in the Premiership at least once more between now and mid-May and these matches will have a huge bearing on the destiny of the Premier League, the FA Cup and the Champions League. Though the Gunners may be out of the title race, their performances against Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool will be highly influential in deciding the who tops the table at the end of the season.
The Gunners are still very much involved in the FA Cup and the Champions League though and Tuesday night's trip to Villareal will be the next step along the European route. As wonderful as it will be to see former Gunner Robert Pires come back to Ashburton Grove in a couple of week's time, there can be no sentimentality and Arsenal must be looking to score an away goal in the first leg and then finish the job in North London on 15th April.
Should the team find themselves in two semi-finals at that point, the run-in to the end of the season will start to look very interesting indeed.