Win at the Etihad proves Arsenal are a threat
By Daniel Rubens
Arsenal haven’t been bad this season. Far from it. In fact, at times, they’ve been very good, good enough to make us wonder why they aren’t in the title fight.
To say the Gunners are languishing in fifth seems like hyperbole, but to say they’re lurking also doesn’t sound right. Apart from a three-game skid in November, Arsenal have been very solid, winning most games that they should, and seeing the usual shakiness that plagues every team at points throughout the season.
This weekend always felt like a turning point for Arsenal, with a trip to title-contender Manchester City telling us whether the Gunners can make a run at the top two or if they will try to settle into another fourth-place finish. Turn the tide they did.
With a 2-0 victory at the Etihad, Arsenal announced their intentions loud and clear. The Gunners don’t plan to simply hand a top-four spot to Southampton or Manchester United, and they could pose a threat to the top teams as well if things break right over the second half.
Arsenal had yet to show up in a big game this season, getting a 1-0 win over Southampton and draws against Spurs and City in the first half as their results against the other top six sides. They then lost to Southampton on New Year’s Day, dropping the Gunners to sixth.
But the Gunners have rebounded since, with an FA Cup win over Hull and a 3-0 league win over Stoke setting them up to travel to Manchester. Oozing confidence, the Gunners went north and simply outplayed their hosts on the way to three crucial points in the race, in the process declaring themselves a contender.
Needing an impressive performance against a top side, the Gunners relied once again on their talisman, Alexis Sanchez. Though he wasn’t quite as influential as he was against Stoke, when he had two goals and an assist, Sanchez was at least slightly involved in the build-up play that led to the penalty decision against Vincent Kompany that gave Arsenal the lead, and won the free kick that led to the second goal.
Particularly impressive in the win was Spanish midfielder Santi Cazorla. He scored the penalty and set up the second with a superb free kick right to the head of Olivier Giroud. He was a nuisance all game long for the City defense.
From minute one, Arsenal controlled the game, slowing down City’s top attacking threats while leaving their own assets open and ready to counter. Arsene Wenger outfoxed Manuel Pellegrini, who was hoping his team could find it’s way through Arsenal’s defense with crosses, but the Gunners backline sent each back and generally marked well all game.
Wenger will hope this wasn’t just a flash in the pan of an otherwise inconsistent season, but Arsenal appear to be getting stronger by the week. Cazorla and Sanchez have both been terrific, and players like Aaron Ramsey and Giroud have come back from injury and slotted in nicely. Other young players have stepped up too, with the likes of Hector Bellerin and Francis Coquelin impressing, the latter of whom was fantastic in a holding midfield role against City.
All of these players are improving and gelling as time goes by, and more players will continue to come back into the fold. Mesut Ozil made the bench today, and when healthy and on his game, he’s as good a playmaker as anyone. Danny Welbeck and Jack Wilshere should both be back within the next month or so, and they will both provide an additional lift.
For the Gunners to compete, Wenger knows he needs another defender who can cover at multiple positions. It has become exceedingly clear over the first half of the season that Arsenal don’t have the depth on the back line to overcome the injuries his squad has suffered. That they are as high in the table as they are is a testament to the guys who aren’t hurt and the people coaching them up.
As these players continue to come back and get used to playing with each other, Arsenal will improve. They are capable of being the team they were against City on a weekly basis, and Wenger and the players know it. If they can find that consistency over the second half of the season, the Gunners could be a candidate for a Liverpool-like run that takes them to places previously unimaginable. Dream big, Gooners.