Monday 2 May 2011

A bittersweet victory

Arsenal 1 Man U 1 Words: 467. Estimated reading time: 1 minute 40 secs.
Beating Man U should always be celebrated as much as possible but this one is overshadowed by thoughts of what could have been.

Arsenal’s focus on victory, their relative calm under pressure and ability to dictate the terms of a match that the champions-elect were desperate to win were the qualities that earned us three points; and ones which have been conspicuous in their absence over the past couple of months.

This could, maybe should, have effectively been the title decider - an honour which now goes to the Man U-Chelsea game next week. The Carling Cup final loss shouldn’t have had such a devastating impact on our form in the first place but, despite that collapse in confidence, we remained in the title hunt - until three games ago and seven points were spurned.

But on a broader level than the title run-in, I can’t help but wonder how things would have turned out if the attitude yesterday had been shown throughout the season, especially at home. Inevitably teams perform better in some matches than others and this was one of our superior displays. Yet the high level of effort was noticeable, with the likes of Song, Clichy and Koscielny particularly appearing to be rising to the challenge of taking on the league’s top team.

It was evident in two other home performances against elite opposition this season, Chelsea and Barcelona, but compares markedly to the team’s lacklustre approach against the likes of Newcastle, Sunderland and Blackburn. This win is further proof that we have the potential to be the best team in the country but the frustration remains that we cannot keep those standards across a season against all types of challengers.

One-off wins against the very best have been achieved in recent years, not just this one, but we haven’t beaten Man U and Chelsea in the same season since 2001/02 so a breakthrough of sorts has been made.

Even then, though, we can’t match Chelsea and more specifically Man U for consistency, especially in high-pressure games. Could you imagine this Arsenal team overcoming an FA Cup semi-final loss by taking a point from a trip to Newcastle, beating Everton in the last five minutes, winning 2-0 away in Europe and then facing up to games against their two biggest title challengers in a week that also features a Champions League semi second leg? Man U themselves may not be able to cope with the pressure of it and the chance of us showing more resilience is fanciful.

Wins like yesterday’s show we are capable of reaching that level but also expose how much further we need to improve. This was a small step towards getting to that point – we need to make the most of the summer transfer market to take further strides.

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