Arsenal travel to Old Trafford on Sunday buoyed by some new-found confidence after completing yet another memorable and historic away win. Some might say the Gunners are favourites and they have done almost everything right this season. Are you not entertained? By ANTOINETTE MULLER.
From a dreadful pre-season to a 3-1 home defeat on the opening day of the Premier League, Arsenal have well and truly turned a corner. A side who, at the start of the season, looked like they were simply getting away with being Champions League quality have become a side capturing the hearts and imaginations of many neutrals.
They underscored their credentials as a serious competitor with a 0-1 win over Dortmund in Germany on Tuesday night. It was the first time since December 2002 that Borussia Dortmund failed to score in a Champions League game on home turf. Arsenal have now won away at Real Madrid, Milan, Juventus, Inter, Dortmund and Bayern Munich in the last few years – the first English team to achieve this feat.
The win over Dortmund was perhaps a bit lucky as the Gunners scored against the run of play after being stifled, broken down and unable to get one shot at goal for most the first half. The Germans dismantled their orchestra of passes and made them look completely unstructured for most of the game.
But that should not take any of the gloss off it. Arsenal’s back four have been superb. Laurent Koscielny and Per Metersacker have been keeping forwards in their pockets like they’re collecting Pokemon, while the midfield has weaved magic tapestries around some of the most highly-rated players in the world and they have found the back of the net consistently. Their away form has been stellar. Since their victory over Bayern Munich in March this year, they have drawn just once and won everything else.
Are you not entertained? Many seem not to be. There still remain doubts over their credentials as a serious team. Every single game Arsenal play seems to be a big test and after they pass the test, they have to face another one. The doubt might not be without doubt. Arsenal do sometimes drop physically and concerns remain over what would happen if any of the back four were to get injured. Carl Jenkinson doesn’t exactly inspire confidence as a replacement for Bacary Sagna and any sort of disturbance to the Koscielny-Mertersacker partnership could be brutally destructive. Even an injury to Olivier Giroud or the revitalised Aaron Ramsey could spell serious trouble.
Those are what ifs, though, and very little is being said about the right now. Right now, Arsenal have not lost in the league since the start of the season. They’ve drawn just one game and they are five points clear at the top of the table ten games in, the best start they’ve had in the Premier League.
Four months ago, if anybody had asked what the result would be when Arsenal travel to Old Trafford in the league, many would have said that they would be getting hammered, all while remembering the horror 8-2 defeat from 2011. Now, things are very much different.
Arsenal’s tika-taka symphony has a real chance of undoing Manchester United’s neither-here-nor-there approach with a new manager who still hasn’t quite figured out his best eleven. Arsenal have the belief and the record and, for the first time in a while, Arsenal could very well be favourites heading into the game.
It’s another test for the league leaders, but Wenger insists on playing it cool and knows his charges can’t be caught napping.
“We passed (the test against Liverpool) in a convincing way,” Wenger told Arsenal Player.
“The focus of the team and the togetherness you could feel from the outside, they refused to lose this game and you could feel that from the start. You could not have predicted that after the first game (Villa) so let’s enjoy it, take a lot of encouragement from it and continue to develop as a team,” Wenger added.
“And as well be cautious and be on our toes, because we changed it in an emphatic way so let’s make sure we continue to grow and not think ‘OK let’s have a little breather’.”
Arsenal will head to Old Trafford on the weekend knowing that a win will finally knock a few of their doubters off their perch. They’ll leave knowing that a win will put another brick in their expanding foundation towards building something really strong.
For a long time, Arsenal have been building a brand of football that, when it clicks, is something truly magical. Although they have made some mistakes and although their trophy cabinet remains empty, they seem to have finally found a real identity. Arsenal have become a team who will kill you softly, like a cat toying with a mouse, tapping away until it finally gives up.
A loss, though, could be the season-defining knock which has happened time after time in recent history and seen them slip from fighting title contenders to simply being content with a top four finish.
Yes, United might be eight on the table and eight points adrift, but it’s still the Theatre of Dreams and despite their struggles this season, it still remains the acid test of any team’s fighting spirit.
Win, and just maybe the crowds will start doffing their caps. DM
Photo: Borussia Dortmund’s Robert Lewandowski falls as he tries to control the ball in front of Arsenal’s Per Mertesacker (C) during their Champions League Group F soccer match in Dortmund November 6, 2013. (REUTERS/Ina Fassbender)
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