Belief is an oft-used word by Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, as he has belief in his team’s abilities to vie for the league and perhaps more. There’s unquestionably great technical skill at the Emirates, but more often, at crucial moments, belief is what Arsenal lack. The Gunners will relish their top spot in the league for a few days, and it’s deserved, in developing a bit more grit since a humiliating loss to Chelsea at home in November. Belief should be in large supply in north London, after coming from behind to beat Bolton 4-2.
There was of course, a controversy unseen (but later apologized for) by Wenger, leading up to Fabregas’ goal,when William Gallas crunched into Mark Davies, that made one wonder if the big clubs do get preferential treatment from referees, no matter what Alex Ferguson says. Alan Wiley certainly missed one on that occasion, but Owen Coyle’s fury should soon be dissipated with hosting Burnley, his last club only days ago, in less than a week’s time. It’s certainly tough to take over the reins any time in the Premier League, but to start off with two against Arsenal is something the new Bolton gaffer will be glad to be done with.
If you were to look at the Gunners’ two games with Bolton (the first, a 2-0 Arsenal win at the Reebok last Sunday), spectators have gotten a decent return in their viewing. Last night’s game was unquestionably the highlight, with Bolton putting two past Arsenal at the Emirates before a half hour had passed. And that was the moment, just a shade before thirty minutes had elapsed, that you wondered if Arsenal would frustrate themselves, as they have done in the recent past. Steady in attack, even resilient, the Gunners played on and Tomas Rosicky thumped home Arsenal’s first goal before the half, beating a flat-footed Jussi Jasskelainen at his near post.
The controversy came in the 52nd, when Gallas stepped on Davies’ ankle, and Arsenal played on, resulting in a Cesc Fabregas goal from such an acute angle, Robin van Persie would’ve been proud. Tomas Vermaelen added Arsenal’s third after a scramble in the box less than fifteen minutes later, and a nicely-finished goal fromAndrei Arshavin in the 85th saw the Gunners go top.
It’s nearly impossible to not let Gallas’ tackle mar Arsenal’s temporary perch above the Premier League, but it’s almost just as impossible to see how Arsenal don’t deserve at least a share of first or second place at this point in the season. The league leaders have stumbled up to this point, and an extravagantly-assembled Manchester City and nose-diving Liverpool have seen the word “parity” bandied about in the league. If there was a team to deserve a share of first place, the Gunners deserved it, getting it done without van Persie, Nicklas Bendtner, and now Alex Song (arguably Arsenal’s most-improved player this season), off on African Cup of Nations duty.
Chelsea can easily reclaim the top spot against Birmingham next week, and Arsenal find a tough run of games coming up (Aston Villa, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool). But it only takes a glance at where the Gunners were at this time next season to see a marked improvement to Wenger’s talented side. If there was an Most Valuable Player award in the EPL, Fabregas would surely be a front-runner. He’s the only player at the moment in Arsenal’s attack who can take control of and change a game. Robin van Persie is that kind of player, but Gooners will be lucky to see the Dutchman sharp and fit before the season’s over.
Perhaps this is the best opportunity or Arsenal in five years to win the league. The last time Arsenal looked a credible side to vie for the trophy was the season it all fell apart for them, after Eduardo’s horrific injury. Perhaps that is what makes Gooners a little apprehensive to speculate on their team lasting the marathon. And one only look at Eduardo now, who remains a good reader of the game, and clever on runs, but lacks some of the pace and finishing he had pre-injury.
One thing is impossible to deny. The captain Fabregas and Arshavin are indispensable. As long as they miss the deadliness of van Persie, the Gunners rely far too much on those two. Of course you would look to those them when they’re fit, but Wenger’s side seem guileless and sometimes plodding when either are missing. As much as it hurts to say, they are talismans. There are questions about Manuel Almunia, the depth of Arsenal’s back line, and the squad’s ability to play well without the ball. But if you want to talk about belief, it’s difficult to see how Arsenal can lack it at the moment.
[BBC Football, Just Arsenal]