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Arsenal learning new tricks with team’s overdue resilience emerging at right time


It wasn’t a vintage Manchester United team that Arsenal toppled in their 2-1 FA Cup quarter-final win and it wasn’t a free-flowing Manchester City side they bested 2-0 at the Etihad Stadium in January. But the men from the Emirates—without a win at an illustrious venue for four years—have conquered two pertinent hurdles since the turn of the year and have done so with an unfamiliar dash of fortitude.

The aberration against Monaco in the Champions League aside, Arsenal have been in exemplary form in recent weeks, but it’s the aforementioned victories that will have offered most encouragement to those of a red and white persuasion.

At City, the Gunners showed that they could be adaptable, diligent and cohesive on the road. The win at Old Trafford merely proved that 2-0 victory and the unfamiliar manner in which it was no fluke.

Indeed, if anything the underpinning resilience showcased here was even more impressive from the Gunners. This was an Arsenal team that had the diminutive but delectable Santi Cazorla at the heart of a ferocious midfield slugfest alongside the determined Frances Coquelin, with Mesut Ozil pulling the strings further forward flanked by the effervescent talents of Alexis Sanchez and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

That’s a lot of intricate, attacking talent shoehorned into one side, something that usually sees Arsenal compensate on organization. But encouragingly there was no let up in the defensive diligence showcased by this group. Cazorla held his own with a marriage of physicality and panache, Ozil insouciantly dictated and ratted around in equal measures, while the unrelenting forays of the wide-men lent admirable cover to their respective full-backs.

And at the forefront of this display was Danny Welbeck, the unwanted former United man who bagged the winner in this step towards Wembley. It was his work-rate, his willingness to chase down a lost cause and his perennial pestering of the Red Devils back-line that conjured a crucial and deciding goal for this team.

The England man is the kind of forward this Arsenal team have needed. He’s not as clinical or quite as refined as Olivier Giroud, but his versatility and work ethic at the top end of the pitch give the Gunners a different edge, the kind of edge that this team have needed from a front man win games like the ones at Old Trafford and the Etihad.

For Arsene Wenger, this willingness to surrender initiative in matches for the greater good of his team is long overdue. And it’s a seismic shift in focus that looks to have come at the perfect time for this team.

Admittedly, their surrender at home to Monaco in the first leg of the Champions League looks to be too much to salvage for the Gunners, but for the remainder of the season it’s a change in mentality that will serve them well.

The club remain immersed in a race for the top four spots and after the momentum accrued from this crucial win at United, they will feel confident of cementing third spot at the very worst. Some more silverware looks very much on the cards as well and for a side that was so starved of silverware prior to their Wembley success last season, back-to-back FA Cup wins shouldn’t be seen as a consolation ribbon, it’s a feat that should be celebrated.

But beyond the final embers of this campaign the future looks encouraging too, for it seems as though the old dog Wenger has learned some crucial new lessons in the last few months.

Notoriously stubborn in the implementation of his favored principles, many have claimed that the Arsenal boss has been left behind in the modern age. That obdurateness seems to have yielded as of late, with the win at the Etihad serving as a source of enlightenment. A similarly dogged display at Old Trafford will add further credence to the benefits of being an adaptable outfit.

There are some facets of this team that need addressing in the summer to turn the Gunners into thoroughbred title contenders, most notably at the base of the midfield and in defence. If the previous two summers are anything to go by—when Wenger signed Sanchez and Ozil for big money—then we should expect another marquee acquisition rocking up at the Emirates, but you suspect that this long awaited shift in mentality is more important that any additional personnel.

Follow Matt on Twitter @MattJFootball


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