The Arsenal Monday verdict: Fantasy and reality - Arsenal still can’t defend

Will Chelsea triumph prove a defining one for Arsene Wenger’s side?

Now the dust has settled, the result is no less remarkable. A win, and five goals at Stamford Bridge, of all places. What a weekend of basking in the glory of that victory it has been for Arsenal fans.

Now for the reality check. A look at the Premier League table confirms that not only are the Gunners still in seventh place, but that they are also still 12 points adrift of leaders Manchester City.

More pressingly, Tottenham's own victory over west London rivals on Sunday sees them remain three points ahead of the Gunners in fifth place, with a game in hand.

Saturday's stunning win, much like the defeat at Old Trafford, was just one game, with only three points at stake and it will not turn Arsenal's season around on its own.


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It would be churlish, however, to concentrate on the negatives after a performance and result as memorable as any in Arsene Wenger’s 15-year reign at the club.

There were numerous positives. Wenger rightly chose to focus on the spirit that saw his side twice fight back from behind at such an imposing venue, and again find the resources to win the game after being pegged back at 3-3. Many inside Stamford Bridge, myself included, felt Chelsea would go on to win the game after Juan Mata's goal.

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That they did not was, depending how you like to see it, due to John Terry and Florent Malouda’s defensive blunder, or the lethal finishing of Robin van Persie.

The Dutchman's hat-trick is his second in 2011, a year which has so far seen him score 28 goals in 27 Premier League appearances. Without question, he is currently the top flight's most deadly marksman, even among the exalted company of Manchester City's free-scoring Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko or Manchester United's Wayne Rooney.

But Saturday was not just the Van Persie show. Throughout the team were displays that offered real encouragement. Laurent Koscielny was heroic even in a defence that was regularly breached, while Alex Song gave the performance that Chelsea lacked; a natural ball-winner and play-builder in front of the back four.

Aaron Ramsey's battle with Frank Lampard as the most creative midfielder on show was won in the final 20 minutes, the young Welshman having the legs to outlast his more experienced but indisputably fading counterpart. It is perhaps the first time Ramsey has won such a duel in a big game. It will not be the last.

And what of Theo Walcott? So poor in recent weeks, he delivered his A-game when it mattered most, again winning a personal battle with a more experienced opponent, Ashley Cole.

They were probably Arsenal's stand-out performers, but there were plenty of other cameos, not least from Andre Santos who recovered from being crucified for pace by Daniel Sturridge in the first half to running riot himself on the left flank in the second, even getting on the scoresheet with the calmly-taken strike to make it 2-2. What is it about Arsenal left-backs and scoring at Stamford Bridge?

Despite the hyperbole and wonder at the result, however, it is impossible not to point out some of the glaring deficiencies that remain in Arsenal’s defending.

In the opening five minutes alone Chelsea caught them square three times, and the two goals conceded in the first half were both personal nightmares for Per Mertesacker.

The big German appears to have height and power, yet he used neither attribute in missing Mata's cross for the opening goal and then failing to hold off John Terry for the second. On another day, those errors would have cost Arsenal the game. If Jose Mourinho had still been in the Chelsea dugout, they surely would have.

Thomas Vermaelen, restored to the squad and used as a late substitute in an attempt to quell the Chelsea onslaught, will surely return to the starting XI now, and it seems only logical that Mertesacker will be the one who makes way.

Arsenal have conceded 17 goals in their last four league away games, and while that statistic will remain distorted by the 8-2 defeat at Old Trafford all season long, even in the last three the Gunners are averaging three goals against per game.

When you score five, some may argue, it doesn't matter so much, but how easily Arsenal could have won at Blackburn and drawn at Spurs with more competent defending. And maybe escaped such a hiding at Old Trafford.

As mentioned earlier, however, a run of eight wins in nine games capped off with a humbling of Chelsea is no place for overall negativity.

Arsenal are, at the very least, back on course for a top four finish. What is imperative now is not to lose momentum. The next four league opponents are West Brom, Norwich, Fulham and Wigan, games that have three points written all over them.

So often though, these matches have proved Arsenal's undoing. To capitalise on the wonder of Saturday’s heroics at Stamford Bridge Arsenal owe themselves, and their supporters who have suffered a difficult six months, a sustained run.

As Wenger has discovered in recent seasons, competing for the title is a privilege, not a right. But it is one Arsenal fans have become accustomed to for the last two decades.

Win those next four games and even Manchester City, who Arsenal visit on December 18, might not look too far ahead.

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