After an interminably boring international break, it was a return to real football this weekend and the Gunners got straight back into their Premier League stride with a 3-1 victory over Birmingham City that sent them into the top four with a game in hand on the leaders.
Two first-half goals in quick succession from Robin Van Persie and Abou Diaby seemed to put Arsenal firmly in charge of yesterday’s match. From there, everyone expected the team to go on to rack up a score against a Birmingham side who spent most of the first forty five minutes penned in their own half. But, a combination of Arsene Wenger's men taking their foot off the gas and a moment of extremely weak goalkeeping from Vito Mannone allowed the Blues back into the contest as Lee Bowyer pegged a goal back in the 38th minute.
Whether it was rigours of playing for their international teams or just one of those days where they failed to sparkle, Arsenal struggled to lift their tempo again in the second half. Though they put plenty of pressure on their visitors, they showed little in the way of a cutting edge against a resolute Birmingham defence. As the game wore on, it began to look as if City might nick an equaliser - and they very nearly did as Mannone atoned for his earlier error with a crucial save from a Liam Ridgewell cross.
In the end, it took an impudent finish from Andrey Arshavin in the 85th minute to kill off the visitors and clinch all three points for the Gunners. As the Birmingham defence backed off him, the Russian picked his spot and passed the ball into the net with a pinpoint curling strike beyond the flailing hands of Joe Hart.
Arsenal may not have been at their best yesterday but this was just the sort of match that they might have ended up drawing in recent seasons. The most important thing was that they managed to pick up where they left off before the international break and continued their winning streak. The Premier League season - and winning the title - is made up of building blocks like yesterday's performance. Many supporters might have been disappointed that they were unable to turn on the style after seizing control of the match in the first half but, sometimes, it is more about the result than the performance. If the Gunners find themselves in the title shake-up come next May, no one will care that they looked a little jaded yesterday. All that will matter is the three points.
The other thing that subtly came through during yesterday's match was the strength in depth that the squad is beginning to show. Arsene Wenger felt confident enough to start Andrey Arshavin and Bacery Sagna on the bench with Theo Walcott and Emmanuel Eboue deputising seamlessly for these two. Kieran Gibbs came in for the injured Gael Clichy too and he slotted in at left-back summoning a very accomplished performance. When you consider that, either through injury or being rested, Nicklas Bendtner, Samir Nasri, Manuel Almunia, Eduardo, Denilson, Johan Djourou and the aforementioned Clichy did not even make the bench yesterday, it looks like the squad finally does have the resources to weather the injuries and suspensions that will inevitably come during the course of a long season. Though many feel that some additional steel is still required in midfield, it does not detract from the fact that the manager now has a squad at his disposal that has cover in every area of the pitch and some real balance to it.
Next up, the Gunners travel to Holland to face AZ Alkmaar in the Champions League on Tuesday night. A victory over there would see the team plant one foot into the knockout phase of the tournament and leave them probably requiring only one more win from their following three games to make certain of qualification.
On Sunday afternoon, Arsene Wenger takes his side to East London to face West Ham. Though the Hammers have had a dismal start to the season, it can be guaranteed that, as always, they will raise their game for the visit of Arsenal. Again, this is exactly the sort of match that the Gunners will have to take something from if they have pretensions of winning the title. Though it might not be the highest profile match of the weekend, a win at Upton Park would be another of those building blocks that is required in putting together the sort of consistent run that will give the team a live chance at the business end of the season.