At Long, Long Last.


The expression that can be seen smeared across Arsene Wenger’s face in the still of his post-match interview with BBC Sport tell its own story. Frankly, it renders what I am about to write entirely redundant as that encapsulation of unadulterated delight is the single emotion I, and thousands others will be feeling for at least another 24 hours. After 2 years and many journalistic columns damning Arsenal’s record against their title rivals, a well-earned victory against Chelsea acted as the perfect Christmas, Birthday and Chanukah present for the next 10 years. It was that special.

In the last couple of decades Arsenal have seen their fair share of emblematic periods in the club’s history. George Graham’s organised yet fruitful Boring, Boring Arsenal, Bruce Rioch’s organised, dour yet fruitless charges, despite eventually seizing the prospect of glamour with the signing of Dennis Bergkamp. Then came the beautiful glory years, and perhaps now we have at last witnessed the termination of the most recent, and most frustrating period in the club’s recent history- 2005-present; transition. At last it seems this current crop are ready for the big-time. No more excuses, references to youthfulness or inexperience, now is the time for this team to make a name for itself with more than just aesthetics.

Prior to yesterday’s encounter Wenger spoke of a need to leap the psychological hurdle defeating Manchester United or Chelsea presents, yet these brave speeches have been an all too often a prefix to defeat at the hands of our title rivals in recent years. This time however, a mental solidity was personified throughout. Alex Song in particular reminded the world why he is one of the best in his position, and could have been misidentified as a 6 ft 2 brick wall at any moment during the match. Last season Arsenal were bullied against Chelsea, home and away, where the sheer athleticism, size and power of the opposition resulted in respective 3-0 and 2-0 defeats. Yesterday the roles were almost reversed, as Chelsea had little time on the ball, and whilst they were rarely physically overshadowed by the slighter figures of Jack and Cesc, the midfield pair were contagiously tenacious throughout.

Although possession was efficiently regained and retained in the first 40 minutes, a familiar lack of cutting edge was on display. Alex Song saw to this, continuing his no-nonsense approach in an area of the field he has become more accustomed to this season. Characteristic tenacity around the edge of the box culminated in Cesc collecting a pass from Wilshere before being upended. Whilst most paused to prepare their pleading, Song profited with an instinctive finish into the far corner of the net. It was the perfect end to an excellent half.

Few would have considered it to get much better than that, and considering the regularity with which this side surrender leads, a 1-0 platform against the Champions could have been irrelevant. At one point the particular commentator who alongside the incomprehensible Steve McManaman, could be heard in my U.S based Irish Pub, identified how an encounter between these two London rivals couldn’t be so without the inclusion of a Didier Drogba goal. This could well have been the cue for the Ivorian to continue his prolific record against Arsenal, yet it seems Johan Djourou likes the big-man somewhat less than Philippe Senderos. The second Swiss man to inherit Arsenal’s Centre-Half berth was far less welcoming than his compatriot once was. Clearly instructed with keeping Drogba quiet, Djourou was exemplary. Strong, quick, aerially impeccable and tactically adept, for a moment I thought I was watching a young Sol Campbell. His display against Fulham was admirable, yet this one yesterday will undoubtedly cement his place as a permanent fixture at the heart of the back four, injury permitting, of course.

Thus, rather than levelling up, Chelsea went a further goal down. Although Michael Essien performed the crucial misdemeanour in relaxing his grip on possession, Theo Walcott capitalised with immense composure. His pace provided a joyous sight when burning past Cashley Cole, and the presence of mind he displayed when teeing up Cesc Fabregas for an easy finish put pay to Alan Hansen’s harsh criticisms. Still unable to figure out whether this was a dream or reality, the tale progressed further a mere 4 minutes later. Again Arsenal capitalised on a Chelsea error, and this time Fabregas slipped in Walcott for a finish the great Thierry would have been proud of up in his VIP seat, slamming the ball into the far corner of the net with aplomb.

Whilst a Chelsea come-back continued to be a possibility, especially after Ivanovic scored via a Drogba free-kick, it was never a reality such was the resilience of our performance. It would be an injustice to the other 13 involved to pick out one individual for praise as the team performance was virtually impeccable. Arsenal sized up the daunting mental hurdle with that first Alex Song goal, leapt over it with the two after half time, and on the final whistle, sped away with glee and a renewed hunger. On Wednesday night Wigan will undoubtedly provided a stern test at the DW Stadium, buoyed by the lack of Cesc Fabregas due to suspension incurred with a fifth yellow card of the season. The confidence this team will no carry into that game however will be vital in aiming to close the gap at the top of the league, and welcome in a new, long-awaited era.


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