Ever since the first few weeks of the season, it feels like we’ve been trying to build a comeback. It seemed to be going well, before we took some more hits in December, and then had the epic failure of Milan away in the Champions League, and Sunderland in the FA Cup. A comeback towards the league title was never realistic, and for a long time, the same could be said about the top three. However somehow we now find ourselves on the verge of completing a near miraculous turn around.
In the last few weeks, this comeback has been instigated by comebacks. Obviously we’d all prefer for Arsenal to not be a goal down in games, but it seems that isn’t a problem for the squad at the moment. Questions can legitimately be asked as to why we keep falling behind in games, but after five Premier League wins in a row, that shouldn’t be the focus. The focus should be on how this team keep surprising us and producing magic moments.
Fans’ expectations of the team and the players as individuals have undoubtedly been lowered this season, although the expectations of the club as a whole have remained high. Due to this, every time we do come from behind, I’m surprised and elated in equal measure. By now though, I shouldn’t be surprised. We’re the first team to go a goal behind in four Premier League matches in a row, and still win them. Amidst the strangest of seasons that we’re experiencing, that is superb.
‘Mental strength’, ‘unbelievable belief’, ‘total commitment’; they’re phrases and clichés that are trotted out by numerous managers, often mostly by Arsene Wenger, in relation to their teams, and usually they are pretty meaningless. However they really do apply to the Arsenal team at the moment. Even when the team aren’t quite playing in their desired flowing style, there seems to be a win-at-all-costs attitude that is seeing them through. Whereas cup defeats in the past have derailed our season, they’ve galvanised us this year. The players clearly feel responsible for those disappointments, and are doing their upmost to make up for it in the league, for the fans and the manager.
That was typified by Thomas Vermaelen. Usually, he isn’t a player that can be criticised for not giving everything when playing for the club, but even he has stepped it up in recent weeks. If it was possible to give more than 100%, I’m sure Vermaelen would. Having looked disconsolate after the Champions League exit against Milan in the last game, his emotions at the end of the following game couldn’t have been any different. He looked determined to make sure that he avoided disappointment again, and was a man on a mission near the end of the Newcastle match. After having a header well saved, Vermaelen came from nowhere to score the winning goal. When Song spread the ball out wide to Walcott, the Belgian was still on the half way line, yet within seconds he was scoring inside the six yard box. Immense.
It’s tough to single out individuals though, as each player that goes out in the red and white at the moment is doing the same thing. Therefore, we’re looking like a team. In recent seasons, we’ve had some great individuals, but the team spirit has been lacking. This season, the spirit is superb. Arsene Wenger and Robin van Persie deserve massive credit for bringing them together and instilling the belief that we can come back from any situation. Fans can ask why we didn’t have the same spirit and commitment earlier in the season, but these things take time. To get to the position mentally that the squad are now in, we needed the setbacks. There have been too many of them; but in a strange twisted way, they were needed. We still shouldn’t just accept them as part of football, but they haven’t done us as fans, and particularly the players, as much harm as they could have done.
Specifically from the Newcastle match, a few players deserve extra praise. Bacary Sagna continues to prove that he is arguably the best right back in the league. He’s helped get more out of Theo Walcott, and continues to be solid at the back. Theo himself had a very good game and had a massive hand in both goals. He’s not afraid to put in an early cross, instead of just running himself out of a crossing position, and his delivery has improved. We’re still waiting for the goals to come, but his assists tally this season is excellent.
In midfield, Mikel Arteta kept things moving nicely again. With Newcastle sitting deep, we were always going to need to move the ball quickly, and Arteta did that. Alongside him, Tomas Rosicky celebrated his new contract with another dynamic display. He continued his recent trend of running forward directly with the ball, and tracking back when others were caught up field. His miss in the second half was unfortunate and shanked badly, although overall he had another inventive game.
Up front, Robin van Persie missed a couple of good chances, but even on a slight off-day, he buried an important one just seconds after Newcastle took the lead. We’ve come to expect the best from van Persie, and his control and balance in the box for his goal was just that.
The skipper was involved in an interesting incident at the end of the match with Newcastle keeper Tim Krul, one that didn’t show the best side of either player, but from an Arsenal point of view, what van Persie did was understandable. Krul’s time wasting had been ludicrous; I’ve seen Per Mertesacker run the length of the pitch faster than it took Krul to take a goal kick. It wasn’t just happening near the end of the game either, Krul started in the first half. I think van Persie was saying that scoring in the final minute of added time was deserved because of the time wasting, and that Newcastle should take their time over the kick off. It was good that Mikel Arteta was on hand to help diffuse the situation as van Persie could have needlessly got himself sent off, however at the same time it’s great to see him care so much. Van Persie has suffered from supposed time wasting before, think of his second yellow in the Nou Camp, so he’ll have been delighted that we made them pay for real time wasting by scoring so late.
You only needed to look around the stadium at the final whistle to see the faces of the players, the fans and the club staff to know how much the win meant. We’ve got back to the position we’re in from taking each game at a time, and not looking at the bigger picture. Now we’re back in contention for third, we mustn’t change that mind-set. Let’s just focus on winning games, and see where that takes us. If current form is anything to go by, it could take us past Spurs and give us an unexpected, yet massively appreciated, St Totteringham’s Day.
We don’t have a match until next Wednesday, so the team will have time to recover from the Newcastle game. We travel to Everton, which will be really difficult. Seeing Spurs lose there was funny, but we just have to be careful to not slip up there ourselves. If we do go 1-0 down, then we can still be confident of a comeback to aid the bigger comeback. We’re still playing catch up and might not finish above Spurs, but even if we don’t, we’re giving them the fright of their lives.