The Monday verdict: A crushing win for Arsenal, but let’s not get carried away
Man City 0 Arsenal 3
ARSENE Wenger and Cesc Fabregas both attempted to play down the significance of Sunday’s win at Manchester City, but there is no doubting the way the rest of the country viewed the result.
Arsenal have proved with the crushing victory at Eastlands that they will be title contenders once more this season. Despite the fact that they remain five points behind leaders Chelsea and despite the fact that City had 10 men for 85 minutes, Arsenal are back in business.
A look at the league table that sees the Gunners up to second place would seem to confirm that theory, but both manager and captain sounded a note of caution after a win that, however welcome, will mean little if it cannot be followed up with more positive results.
“It’s still early in the season, it looks like after every win you have to say you are more this or more that, but it’s just one more game, let’s not get carried away,” said Fabregas.
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“You know football, and how it is, you know what people will say when you win and what they will say when you lose, but you just have to keep focused on what you do, playing football, and give everything for yourself and for the team and the rest is not up to you.
“The time to talk about if we have matured or if we are better than before is at the end of the season.”
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Elsewhere at Eastlands, however, Wenger was contradicting his skipper somewhat by claiming the victory showed Arsenal had matured, even if it didn’t mean they were suddenly world-beaters.
“For us it was important to get a win in a big place to strengthen the belief of the squad and continue our march forward,” said Wenger, who could afford to be magnanimous in victory after watching his side cruise to victory.
“What people forget [is that] at Sunderland we were down to 10 men and we dominated completely the second half, we missed the penalty and conceded an equaliser in the last minute of the game.
“I asked the players at half-time to focus on playing in a positive way and to try to score a second goal, to focus on football and not just defending our advantage.
“You could see that for the whole game as long as it was not 2-0 we played with the feeling that ‘we need to win, we need to win’ and there was a little bit of restriction in our game. After it was 2-0 it became easier.
“Overall I am very pleased because we look like we have matured.”
That last comment carries significant weight if it turns out to be true. Certainly there was an element of calm control about this Arsenal display rarely seen in recent times on an away ground against quality opposition. And make no mistake that City are certainly that. Even with 10 men they came close to an equaliser on several occasions and it would have been interesting to see how that would have affected Arsenal.
But the maturity was there right through the team – from a refreshingly competent and decisive Lukasz Fabianski, through a defence still missing its leader, Thomas Vermaelen, and an attack that has not suffered for relying solely on Marouane Chamakh in the continued absence of Robin van Persie.
But it was in midfield where this game was won and Arsenal made the extra man tell, and the way Denilson slipped into the side for his first Premier League start of the season underlined the squad strength given that Wenger was without the suspended Jack Wilshere and injured Abou Diaby.
Alex Song and Samir Nasri not only contributed goals but also polished individual displays, and the way Song is getting forward in recent weeks defies the notion that he is solely a defensive midfielder.
All five of Arsenal’s midfield men like to get forward and are given licence to do so, and while that may be a high-risk strategy against top sides, when you can keep the ball as Arsenal do, it makes them a highly potent attacking force.
“We played some fantastic football and we enjoyed it on the pitch and hopefully the fans enjoyed it too,” said Fabregas, brushing aside his first-half penalty miss to dominate the rest of the game. There was maturity, too, in individual displays as well as the collective.
None more so than from Fabianski, who has perhaps begun to justify the extraordinary faith shown in him by Wenger, although he will need to maintain this kind of form for a good while before all are convinced.
The worry for many supporters is that City still created plenty of chances even when they were down to 10 men, and that Arsenal are still a little too cavalier to win games like these on a regular basis.
But the burden of not having won a ‘big’ game for approaching two years is off their back, even if it was against big-spending but still unproven City rather than the sides who have denied Arsenal the title for the last five years, Manchester United and Chelsea.
However, any doubts over Arsenal’s increased resolve this season could be seen in the demeanour of Fabregas, who missed the two defeats to West Bromwich Albion and Chelsea with a hamstring injury but whose return has clearly galvanised the side.
“When you miss a penalty and a good chance to go 2-0 up the easy thing is to put your head down and feel sorry for yourself but that’s not the way we are or the way I am. We just kept on playing football and we showed good maturity and good discipline.
“It doesn’t matter who the captain is. This is a good team with good young players and we have to make out of this good team a great team by winning things.”