30 November 2014

Two London clubs faced parked buses. One came away with a win.

No, it wasn't pretty, and no, it wasn't quite the scoreline some of us might have hoped for, but a 0-1 win gives us a vital three points and sees us return to winning ways in the Prem for the first time since beating Burnley way back on 1 November. Some may sniff and point to the solitary goal and wonder why we couldn't find the back of the net more-often, and to an extent, they'd be right. After all, West Brom have shipped eleven goals at home, second-worst after Everton's twelve, Yours truly optimisitcally predicted a 0-3 win. So it goes. However, three points are still three points, no matter how they're earned, and so it's telling that, on the same day, almighty Chelsea couldn't unlock Sunderland and dropped two points in a dour 0-0 draw.

We could point out that Welbeck's goal against West Brom means he's now scored more goals (six) than Falcao (one) or van Persie (three). That doesn't prove much, especially as Man U are still above us on the table. Then again, of the three, only one of them is arguably entering an ascendant period while the other two might be on the wane. Welbeck's goal, a powerful header from a Cazorla cross, might be just as important for today's result as it is for his form going forward. After all, aside from the hat-trick against Galatasaray, he's struggled to dispel the notion that he's a talented player who doesn't score often enough. An emphatic, game-winning goal could help him to find more goals in weeks to come.

Elsewhere, news was mixed as rivals Man U and Liverpool won, and we'll await Sunday's results from Southampton-Man City and Tottenham-Everton before assessing just how good the weekend is, but any weekend that starts with an Arsenal win is a good one. Adding a bit of gloss to that win is the fact that Chelsea stumbled to a draw against Sunderland, unable to pierce a stubborn side that simply refuses to concede goals but who arguably had some of the better scoring chances of the day. They're lucky not to have lost Diego Costa for kicking out at John O'Shea just before halftime, the kind of infraction that might warrant a three-match ban. As it stands, he'll serve a one-match ban for earning his fifth yellow of the season, meaning he'll miss Chelsea's midweek trip to White Hart Lane. Now, it's not as if Chelsea will be bereft of options without his services, but he has scored 11 of Chelsea's 30 goals to this point, and Mourinho will have to wonder about his temper if he's so easily provoked. That's his problem, though, not ours, and so we'll set it aside.

Back to us, we've now won two on the bounce but in very different ways. Against Dortmund midweek, we looked sharp and intent in almost all phases and might even feel a bit disappointed to have won by only two goals—this against one of Europe's finest squads, if only on paper. Against West Brom, we looked sluggish and jaded for long stretches but still came away with a win. We can't always count on dominating an opponent and outscoring them, as we've learned rather painfully in recent weeks. Sometimes, the focus will have to be more on the ends than on the means we use to achieve those ends, and so it was on Saturday.  While we slogged through a match that we arguably should have dominated, we at least came away with the positive result. Chelsea, facing very similar circumstances, had to settle for the draw despite their Machiavellian ends-justify-the-means approach. Chelsea, to this point, have lived a charmed existence and boast a thirteen-point lead over us, but a result such as this one reveals cracks in the façade. They're not invincible, at least not as suggested by this performance. For as much as they've glittered thus far, they're bound to stumble.

Meanwhile, Arsenal might just be gathering strength. Back in the fold and robust were Koscielny and Giroud, whose intensity and focus were on ample display. Looking revitalized are Cazorla and Ramsey, and we're looking at the returns of Debuchy and Walcott. It's tantalizing to think that we could go into December stronger than we've been at any other point to date, and not a moment too soon. The fixtures fly fast and furious, with seven of them in the next month, six in the Prem and one last match in the Champions League group-stage. Next up, of course, is high-flying Southampton, who will have to tangle with Man City and then come to the Emirates just three days later. While it might be too much to hope that we'll ascend to the top three by the new year, there's enough fight in this squad to suggest that we can overtake a rival or two.

Looking back on the first thirteen fixtures, we might have reason to feel a bit unlucky. Even as recently as today, Monreal, Gibbs, and Oxlade-Chamberlain suffered slight knocks, reminding us of just how fragile our squad can be—but it's resilient as well. Each of them should be available for Wednesday, and soon enough, Arsène may have selection-dilemmas entirely different from those he's faced in the last two months. Instead of wondering who's available, he may soon have to assess who's most deserving. That would be a welcome change for Gooners and a warning of sorts to all others...