Everton 0 Arsenal 1
Let us cast our minds back a mere 40 days to Saturday, February 11. The North East sides suffered a North London double whammy – while we managed to grab a late winner at Sunderland, a couple of hours later our nearest and dearest rivals swept Newcastle aside 5-0 to restore a 10-point advantage over us.
Spurs were flying high; being led by a manager who had just had the shadow of tax evasion charges lifted and someone who was ready to be chosen as the next England boss, one defeat in 11 (to Man City too), a mere five points from the top of the league. Things were easy. Life couldn’t get much better for them…
Exactly, it couldn’t.
Forty days, four games and one point later, the Tottenham garden is looking far less rosy. More poison ivy, in fact. Meanwhile down the road, the Arse have managed to pull out six wins on the bounce, including a demolition of the aforementioned Tottenham, and now we find ourselves a point ahead of them.
Why do I offer this précis of the past few weeks? Quite simply to show how quickly and inexplicably the football world can change.
My only theory about why Spurs have suffered such a drop in form is that they thought their Champions League place was neatly sewn up and took their foot off their gas. I don’t study their squad list closely but I’m not aware of any major injury problems or suspensions; the speculation about Redknapp getting the England job may have contributed to the problems but, even then, it can’t be the full reason for taking one point from a possible 12.
I don’t really care what the explanation is, the important point is that we now find ourselves in a similar, if not quite as comfortable, position as Spurs did on February 11.
Everything is going right for us, including last night’s dogged 1-0 win at Everton coinciding with a defeat for Chelsea and a home draw for Spurs.
Our displays have improved, confidence is growing and we’re definitely earning whatever luck we’ve enjoyed (such as the Drenthe on/offside decision) to help us claw our place into third position.
But we can’t afford to think the hardest part is over. However much I want to believe the team has hit a hot streak because it is tougher or less willing to lose, in the back of my mind is the sense we remain only one defeat from a meltdown.
The evidence against that, of course, is how we didn’t collapse after the Milan/Sunderland double defeat. Keeping a settled side, especially in defence with Vermaelen restored to the heart of it, has paid off and maybe not suffering from injuries is the key to our fortunes. But part of me just feels like we’re continuing to do what we’ve done all season, it’s just paying off more often at the moment. I hope I’m wrong, and the longer our streak continues the more convinced I’ll be that we’re a genuinely new team. Whatever we do, we can’t think we’re in for an easy ride.
Get well soon, Fabrice
I’ve not posted anything since our last match a week ago during which time Fabrice Muamba suffered his shocking heart failure. It goes without I wish him all the best for his recovery, particularly given his Arsenal roots.
Let me give a special mention to the Tottenham fans at the match when he collapsed (apologies for spending more time writing about Spurs than Arsenal in this post, normal service will be resumed next time). I’ve always considered them to be a few DNA strands short of the normal human species but they acted with compassion and genuine good grace so we should give credit where’s it due – well played.
It’s a lot easier to pay Spurs a compliment now they’re back below us in the table...