That’s gotta be one relieved Lino.

Arsenal's Andrey Arshavin scores

If not for the chorus of boos directed at Lee Mason and one of his officials come the final whistle, a gentle heaving would have been audible. It would have been the collective sigh emitting from thousands of tar-stained lungs. It proved to be a nerve-wracking encounter, and thus our eventual victory only tells half of the story. In that vain, no sigh of relief would have been quite as heartfelt as Lee Mason’s linesman, the instigator of a vicious undercurrent permeating the entirety of this encounter. Yet whilst in previous seasons such an injustice may have irked and then gazumped a fledgling squad, Arsenal last night thrived from an ‘us against the world’ complex to keep up the pressure on Man United.

The regularity with which United seem to earn three points without playing well is startling, and, as much as it pains me to say it, a testament to the managerial prowess of Sir Alex Ferguson. Often such an eventuality is greeted with compliments. ‘That’s what champions do’ is a popular tag, often rolling nonchalantly from the cliched pallet of either Alan, be it Shearer or Hansen. Without trying to ignite cries of an inferiority complex to our great rivals, a similar victory achieved by the gunners constantly, and frustratingly, leads to further questioning of our title credentials. It is an enduring scenario, going hand in hand with the monopoly United seem to have over the minds of the media, as well as the prime viewing slots. Though however insufficient, our title challenge is still going strong, and the victory over Everton yesterday wrote a new chapter in a season brimming with potential.

Afterwards Arsene laid the victory down more to the team’s work ethic and mental qualities, than a footballing masterclass; “today I would say it was more a victory of a team with fantastic spirit and a never-say-die attitude than our usual game. But that of course is needed in a competition like that.” Certainly the team started off sluggishly, something Wenger later put down to accumulating 10 matches over the course of a month. Yet undoubtedly the unavailability of Samir Nasri was a key factor in this. Everton packed the midfield, a tactical no-brainer against Arsenal, yet whilst Nasri has been so lethal this season in such a scenario, cutting in from the flanks and providing the joker in the pack to upset a balanced midfield, Rosicky was ineffective. A great servant to football, and in his day, a great player, yet one might be forgiven for suggesting his day is coming to an end. Despite starting the season brightly, Rosicky was miles off the pace yesterday. When in possession, a rare occurrence, he was often wasteful, and lacked the speed on the ball shown by Nasri, and indeed Arshavin. I hope as much as anyone this was down to a belated recovery from illness, yet one fears his lack of impact yesterday is an ominous precursor to an inevitable decline.

Without Sam, the third musketeer, Robin and Cesc took a while to get going, and we created little in a first half bereft of many clear openings, largely down to the dominance of Fellaini and Rodwell in the midfield. Walcott blasted an opening at the legs of Howard, following a very questionable two-footed lunge from Song, and both Centre Backs came close from corners. Even with more of an eventful half, an opposition goal scored through such controversial means was always going to dominate half-time chitter chatter. It came after Seamus Coleman, the marauding midfielder, looped a perfectly good pass towards Saha. Perfectly good here is the phrase in question, as by anyone else’s standards, the pass was illegal due to Saha’s offside positioning. The fact that Koscielny got a foot to the pass to divert it towards Saha is irrelevant, seeing as this act was not deliberately intended to have such an outcome. The linesman got it wrong, and when the crowd were vindicated in their disapproval via the replay on the big-screen, the tone for the match had been set. Despite the evidence, Lee Mason gave the goal, and created a rod for his own back in doing so, compounded by a string of ill advised decisions throughout the rest of the evening.

Diaby’s introduction at half-time in place of the injured Song was not a welcome one, due to the quite staggering ability he has to slow down each passage of play tenfold. The comparison between the tempo of the team when he plays compared with when Jack is in that role is, well, incomparable. Unfortunately Jack looked to have played one game too many last night, and was himself substituted in place of Bendtner. Yet a more telling substitution came when Rosicky was replaced for Arshavin. Then: yeh, that’s more like it. Darting runs, incisive passing and an air of unpredictability was exactly what we were looking for, and how it paid off. Minutes after looping over a sumptuous pass, only for Van Persie to scuff the finish, Cesc turned provider for the little Russian himself.

After Rodwell had inadvertently headed the ball towards his own net, Arshavin faced redemption right in the eye. It was an almost poetic moment as the ball dropped and the crowd held their breath. Those who have stuck by him, erhum, saw vindication, whilst the moaners, the lambasting complainers, saw hope. All he had to do was tap the ball in from 6 yards, yet in that instant the ball seemed to freeze in an apocalyptic abyss of a moment. Romance is not the word, yet that is what it was full of, and as the ball nestled in the corner of the net, and the crowd rejoiced, Arshavin simply turned to run back. Weeks, nay months of perceived underperformance. Rumblings of complaint from many fans. Votes of confidence from The Manager. And yet, with 60,000 jubilant Gooners sensing victory, his response was merely to turn, wipe the moisture atop is lip, and engage himself for the battle to win the match. He proceeded to excel in both inventiveness and defending, a performance which merited the rousing rendition of his song from the whole ground. It made goosebumps arise.

The icing was provided with Laurent Koscielny’s 2nd goal in a week, and the cathartic explosion of joy was a welcome climax to a nervy encounter. It was the icing to a stellar performance from the Centre Back too, who excelled both aerially and in the tackle against Louis Saha, and later Victor Anichebe.

Such results delight the fans, the manager more, and the fight shown in this comeback, epitomised by Cesc’s almost crazed desire to win, may be the key to success this season. At last we seem to know how to win. Whether we know how to continuously win awaits to be seen.


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