Arsenal: United A Mere Blip As Our Mental Steel Proves We're Ready For Title

After losing at Old Trafford a fortnight ago, in recent seasons Arsenal could have crumbled. But this team's resilience bodes well for the title race.
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They say that on certain days, when the wind is blowing just so and the atmosphere is slightly humid, the noise of rehearsals in the distant Albert Hall will drift through the air currents above London and float down onto Ashburton Grove, tantalising the ears of those within the stadium with snatches of Vivaldi and Bach. Some players have the sensitive soul of an artist, and Artur Boruc is the most sensitive of them all. With 22 minutes on the clock and the ball at his feet, the Pole saw Olivier Giroud barrelling before and his eyes lit up – it was time for the waltz to begin.

Regrettably, Olivier Giroud is more of a Borgore fan and as Artur Boruc began his complex footwork he powered through him with a Gallic “BWAAARK” and knocked the ball into the net, crushing his dreams of a beautiful football-ballroom collaboration and rolling in the first of the cock-up book-ends that did for Southampton in the end.

It was, in the end, fairly comfortable. Arsenal did everything they needed to do – the win was important in broader terms but especially so after the Old Trafford defeat. It’s the conventional wisdom that Arsenal’s lead at the top will only last until their inevitable meltdown, after which they’ll lose all pretence of being competent footballers and then concede a hat-trick to Yannick Sagbo or Bobby Zamora. Previous doom-mongering was predicated on all 40m of Mesut Ozil packing up at some point and mailing his ankles back to Madrid but, in the event, after a slick start the German hasn’t done a great deal and it hasn’t really mattered.

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Laurent Koscielny has restarted his personal “matches since a cock-up” flipchart since getting all up in Ukraine’s grill during France’s first-leg capitulation and alongside Mertesacker, fresh from crushing English dreams at Wembley, he was largely impassable. The performance was characterised by competence rather than any great flair – after Boruc’s crisis early on there was a distinct whiff of second gear but in the event Southampton weren’t able to do much about it. These days, competence is what Arsenal need. When your goal is preventing the mistakes and capitulations against inferior and superior opposition alike that marred previous seasons then competence is a worthy one.

Every match that goes by without calamity is a match closer to the finish line. It says a lot for the pain of Arsenal’s past failures that the threat of a meltdown looms so large, so bouncing back from the United game makes the three points today so much more valuable in the catastrophe-bullet it dodged. It wasn’t a good game to have, either. Southampton are in the awkward position of having had a good enough season for dropped points to be a clear and present danger, but also being ostensibly inferior enough that anything other than a win would have sparked off not just grumbling but the awful tugging feeling in the gut that “oh God it’s happening again this is the moment well it was nice while it lasted”.

They did win, however. A rose tinted analysis might even say that a relatively close loss to Manchester United followed by a comfortable resumption of success is as much of a morale-boosting injection of mental steel that it might prove to be more valuable than a point at Old Trafford would have been. For a team with Arsenal’s past tendencies, illustrating to the fans and themselves just how ready they are to treat matches such as that as blips rather than the beginning of a decline might prove to be incredibly important come the end of the season. The game against Southampton was an unremarkable one but as Arsenal come up against more bumps in the road later on it could prove to have been a very important one.

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