‘Tis the season to be jolly! Well, probably not jolly because nobody, other than large people with rosy cheeks, has been that particular adjective since around the 50s; but cautiously optimistic at the very least.
Arsenal’s meetings with Chelsea had become as predictable as drunken Christmas Day family bickering or your uncle snoozing on the couch oblivious to the bad case of flatulence he has come down with.
Even with Chelsea’s recent poor form, many Gooner fans had the Christmas blues leading up to this fixture with visions of another plucky performance coming to nothing. It would be a familiar sight – Chelsea withstanding attacks like a bullying older cousin with his hand on your forehead, straight-arming you before he delivers the decisive cuff and saunters off with the last of the quality street.
Not this year though, this year was the year Arsenal had grown; this was the year the bully’s reach wasn’t quite far enough and the spirited youthfulness that was previously pluck was now an irresistible dynamism.
Now Chelsea have been relatively poor recently but this does not mean Monday’s result should be underestimated. Chelsea are still a decent side and have been able to hang on to the ball in recent weeks at least, but at the Emirates on this particular night they found an Arsenal team who stumbled on a clarity yet experienced with this current crop of players.
Arsenal have threatened to put in a performance like this for a while but have been regularly undermined by an inability to defend coherently and a knack for giving up possession too easily with passes more in hope than directness.
When they didn’t have the ball, Theo Walcott and Samir Nasri were still busy – they dropped back quickly and harassed Chelsea’s players high up the field and causing the west London side into uncharacteristic profligacy while passing across the midfield.
The two goals early in the second half came as a direct result of pressure high up the field – Essien inadvertently putting the ball into the path of Walcott after Terry was pressured by Van Persie and the young Englishman two minutes later showing great urgency in tackling Malouda just in front of Chelsea’s back four.
There were still worries to come when Chelsea pulled one back almost immediately after Arsenal’s third. A devilish ball in by Drogba found uncertainty in the Arsenal defence and the head of Branislav Ivanovic to, you would think, set up a shaky last half hour. Thoughts went back to the embarrassment of the north London derby and a number of other occasions when Arsenal leads have disappeared in a haze of panic.
It didn’t happen though. Wenger’s team didn’t flinch, they showed composure and levelheadedness to carry on with a game plan that had worked perfectly apart from one defensive blip. Song, Wilshere and warmly welcomed Cesc Fabregas kept the ball well and killed the game by keeping it moving on nicely but for a one or two attempts at audacious scooped through balls (some things will never change).
The sight of Arsenal bully numero uno, Didier Drogba, dropping further and further back as the game went on – only to be as ineffective as he has been throughout the game – was a sight to behold for the many singing (yes, singing) fans around the stadium.
It is easy to carried away, and we must try to be cautious still, but the man who has stalked the nightmares of countless Arsenal centre backs being subdued to the point of almost becoming a centre midfielder is a thing to behold. This is where the renewed belief came from, this is where maturity and composure would come from, this is where we start to believe a team of great potential will now be able to show a little more.
A win at Wigan was as important as Monday’s result; a win at the stadium where last year’s title challenge was effectively buried is where the points and belief gained then are cemented. Dispelling two demons in one week? Oh well, we can't be too greedy at Christmas.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are that of the writer and may not replicate those of the Professional Footballers' Association.
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