Nicklas Bendtner’s late winner against Hull at the KC Stadium left Arsene Wenger glowing at his young side’s desire to win the Premier League for the first time in 6 seasons.
The result temporarily put Arsenal level with Chelsea and ahead of Manchester Utd at the summit of the league and there is no doubting that they are now very much in contention for the title.
The cliché that great teams win when they don’t play well is often used by pundits and Arsenal demonstrated that they are recently starting to find the backbone which has been arguably lacking in the past to grind out results.
Arsenal’s late goal had all the hallmarks of a team who believe they have the right to be considered champions elect. Manchester Utd, Chelsea and to some extent Liverpool last season, have always been the masters of scoring late on in games and securing vital points, which perhaps goes to explain why the Premier League trophy has gone to Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford in recent seasons.
This renewed determination from Arsenal was evident at the Britannia Stadium a few weeks ago in the 3-1 victory over Stoke. Cesc Fabregas and Thomas Vermaelen’s late goals gave the North London side a monumentally important 3 points at a time where Aaron Ramsey’s horrific leg break could have derailed their focus.
The Arsenal players seemed to use the young Welsh midfielder’s injury as motivation to spur them on during the game, and the players have already pledged to win the league ‘for Ramsey’.
It seems Arsenal have learnt from the unfortunate Eduardo incident at St. Andrews in 2008 where the Croatian’s horrific leg break distracted Wenger’s side enough to lose a 2-1 lead in the last minute to Birmingham and William Gallas to memorably throw his tantrum and lose the captaincy. Consequently, one win in seven games followed, and the league title was Utd’s.
That season, Arsenal managed to remain undefeated against the top two at home, losing both fixtures away. In the current campaign however, they have lost all 4 fixtures home and away against Chelsea and Utd, which has prompted the question of whether they actually deserve the title if they go on to claim it.
Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez made the headlines at the end of last season with a mystifying claim that the best team does not always win the title, it just means they have more points than anyone else.
However, as Sir Alex will tell you, any argument is always won by the team holding the trophy and no-one can seriously discredit the team which goes on to win the title. Wenger will certainly hope that his young side can prove the detractors wrong.
With players such as Fabregas and Rosicky returning from injury and the inspirational Robin Van Persie even pencilled in for a surprise return in late April, Arsenal look to have the ammunition to beat the so-called lesser teams which their run-in is mainly comprised of.
Arsenal still have to go to their nearest and dearest rivals Tottenham, and the trip to White Hart Lane is the pivotal game whereby both teams’ ultimate hopes for the season could be decided.
Wenger and the Arsenal fans hope that they will be celebrating at full time in similar fashion to their visit in 2004.