A THREE-MINUTE double-salvo from Robin Van Persie stunned league leaders Chelsea to keep Arsenal’s wilting title hopes alive after a rollercoaster month for Arsene Wenger’s young side.
With the critics continually writing off their title chances and just half an hour to recover a 1-0 deficit against a Chelsea side comfortably on top at the fortress that is Stamford Bridge, Van Persie struck a definitive and highly controversial blow to keep the Premier League ambitions flickering for Wenger’s men.
The striker looked at least a metre offside as he was threaded through by Denilson before rifling the ball into the top corner for an equaliser out of nothing. The comeback was completed when Van Persie (pictured, above) slotted Adebayor’s flick on header brilliantly inside Petr Cech’s far post. The victory summed up a remarkable month for Arsenal and left them seven points behind the Blues at the end of November, with Liverpool and Manchester United also to be caught.
Having beaten Chelsea and the reigning Champions Manchester United on their own patch, it suggests that they have what it takes to compete with the best in the country. But a woeful spell, which saw them concede seven unanswered goals and lose to Aston Villa and Manchester City, has left them with five league defeats against their name already.
While they have been formidable against teams who come to play pretty football, they have been outmuscled and outwitted against teams who have come with a game plan to combat their style. At times this is unbelievable to watch. Teams such as Stoke and Hull, who both inflicted 2-1 defeats on the Gunners, have shown that if they hustle and harry and remain well-disciplined, much of Arsenal’s threat can be extinguished.
So what has gone wrong? After coming within four points of the title last season, Arsenal seem to lack the strength and solidity in the midfield that counteracted many of the more physical sides last season. The key summer departures of Mathieu Flamini and Gilberto Silva have taken away some of the vital steel that supported Arsenal’s lethal attacking armoury. The team have become more reliant on the genius of Cesc Fabregas and youngsters such as Denilson and Alexandre Song Billong packing the midfield. There is a general lack of experience in (the midfield) this area, unlike the other teams in the “Big Four”, Chelsea can boast Frank Lampard; Liverpool have Steven Gerrard and Paul Scholes is still on tap at Manchester United.
The leadership in the dressing room at the Emirates has also been well documented. Arsene Wenger stripped William Gallas (pictured above) of his captaincy after an angry outburst at his team mates, questioning the team’s bravery. He quickly appointed 21-year-old Fabregas as the new club captain. There seems to be renewed spirit within the dressing room, and while Gallas took the punishment professionally and played with passion against Chelsea, the unrest may well be one of the contributing factors to several points dropped already this season.
Perhaps under the new leadership, there will become a new sense of direction and A revitalised title challenge. The appointment of the Spaniard Fabregas typifies Wenger’s policy of developing young players into the first team – a system that has worked brilliantly in the Carling Cup.
The young guns, with a combined age of just 19 in their Carling Cup fourth round tie against Wigan, have impressed the country and totally outclassed two very decent opponents, having thrashed Championship side Sheffield United 6-0 in the previous round.
But, with the exceptional young talent being continually drafted into the team, this means that Wenger’s men are lacking the experienced heads and leaders on the pitch that their Big Four rivals have in abundance. There are also questions over the squad’s depth and the stubbornness of Wenger to spend big during the transfer windows.
This fine victory over Chelsea may spark a revival but surely it won’t be too long before Wenger will have to strengthen. The January transfer window could be crucial for their title chances. While the team have prevailed against Manchester United and Chelsea, they continue to slip up against many of the lower ranked “physical” outfits in the Division – with another slip up likely to end any realistic title hopes for another year.
There is little doubt that the Gunners have got one of the most exciting production line of young talent in Europe, but the fans are getting restless, the team continues to drop valuable points and an unthinkable fourth trophyless season could well and truly be on the cards.