Arsenal still flying high after win at Sunderland, but Spurs are a tougher test
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It was a tale of two managers at the Stadium of Light after Arsenal’s ultimately impressive 4-1 triumph against Sunderland.
To experienced Arsene Wenger-watchers, it appeared he had a glint in his eye while trying to downplay his team’s thrashing of a disjointed Black Cats side.
His feisty defensive demeanour a la Leicester City away after one point from six has long since disappeared – as has his furious disdain at ‘that’ flag last seen at Hull away in the FA Cup last term, and Manchester City in May.
This was the urbane, interesting, calm and collected version of the Frenchman. This was Le Professeur. His performance as suave as seen in the bowels of the Parc de Princes in September when he switched effortlessly and eloquently from English to French, while being more than happy to answer questions openly and honestly.
And why not? His team had just stretched their unbeaten run to 14 games and had risen from a crowded field to leapfrog City at the rarefied air at the top of the world’s most popular and most-watched league – for a few hours at least.
There are villagers deep in the midst of the Amazonian rain forest, who, while never having met a European, are completely familiar with Wenger’s travails over the last decade. In fact, some remote settlements at the source of the Amazon are probably equally split between AKBs and the WOB.
So, while AKBs across the planet on Saturday would hail the magic and vision of Mesut Ozil, the perpetual motion of Alexis Sanchez – his quick feet, the improbable height he reaches when leaping, and his all round joie de vivre – as well as the increasingly efficient contribution from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and the predatory instincts of a reborn Olivier Giroud, the WOB would point to the needless second half wobble.
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They would, not unreasonably, point to a complacent Arsenal side receiving an unpleasant shock when coasting at 1-0. This correspondent was about to tweet that it was typical Arsenal to throw away such an easy lead and drop points again – after Duncan Watmore robbed Shkodran Mustafi before Petr Cech took him down for a deserving penalty which Jermain Defoe scored to level.
But this Arsenal vintage appear to have added steel to their style this season – so far at least. For they responded with three goals in six minutes to silence the home support, sending the away fans into raptures – some of who left so early to get to the lunchtime kick-off they could claim they left on Friday evening.
It was also instructive to see Wenger showing genuine empathy for his managerial colleague David Moyes.
The tough Scotsman was surprisingly bullish afterwards. But all it reminded us of was Wenger after a trail of poor results, when you felt he had nothing to offer on top of what the world had just seen – and no solutions either.
You hope Moyes can see it through as he is a true football man, but his team at the moment are desperately poor. For Wenger, however, November beckons – and deadly rivals Spurs.
This month is traditionally unkind to Arsenal. And with a string of tough fixtures in December too, the feeling is if they can see through the next eight weeks mostly unscathed – then even the more disbelieving sections of home support may start to believe the team have the resilience to challenge for the title.
The run starts on Sunday in the north London derby. Spurs are getting a reputation as being tough to beat, but with too many draws to maintain a genuine title challenge.
The trick for them is to turn draws into victories.
For Arsenal on Sunday – just as at Sunderland – their aim is to turn winning positions into three points.
It’s what title winners do.