Bolton away 2008. Not much came out of that season once the injuries took their toll and the engine was chugging away on empty, but Arsenal’s 3-2 win away to Bolton was significant.
It’s often difficult to view this modern Arsenal as anything other than pushovers when it really matters. They’ll storm through a game one week but fail to capitalise the next. It’s been the story for much of the past six years, where a defeatist mentality has played as much a part as that of considerably poor players.
But there was fight in that Arsenal team back in March of 2008. The game appeared lost and Arsenal were down to 10 men. It was, however, players like Cesc Fabrgeas who rallied. It was the class of Alex Hleb, who was at the time playing at his peak. It was an Arsenal who weren’t quite ready to face the guillotine, and it said as much when Fabregas grabbed the winner.
This recent trip to Sunderland brought about similar feelings. It was once again a backs-to-the-wall affair with Arsenal playing with one man light. It was about as gritty and English as you’re likely to see, where even a draw would have seemed like a hammer blow and a defeat. The game was, however, colossal. It brought the best out of players who have been performing well below par. It forced the leaders and most talented to the head of the queue to take responsibility. Even with Sunderland’s relentless attack, Arsenal were in no mood for a dark cloaked figure.
It’s one of those occasions where you wonder why Arsenal can’t play like that every week. Ok, maybe not every week; for all the worth of the three points, it wasn’t the most attractive game to watch. But you need performances like that in order to be victorious. The end product is unlikely to be silverware this season, but there’s a lot to be taken from games like that.
One of the stories that leap out from the brawl at Sunderland is the matter of yet another contract. Bacary Sagna had his best game for Arsenal this season, partnering Per Mertesacker when Laurent Koscielny picked up an injury in training.
The right-back’s performances in recent weeks may have left some fans feeling that his time was up at Arsenal and that his head was no longer in it. This past weekend, Sagna put that notion to bed, helping to forge one of Arsenal’s best defensive performances this campaign. It once again begs the question as to whether more should be done to keep the Frenchman at the club.
Regardless of what he’s produced on the pitch this season, Sagna’s presence can still be invaluable at the club. It’s not just that he brings plenty of experience and a clear head to turn to when Carl Jenkinson may not be ready, but it’s also that he brings continuity. Fresh faces are exciting and desperately needed at Arsenal, but not if they’re replacing important departing names.
You also have to applaud Arsene Wenger for being bold and confident in his selection. Players like Ignasi Miquel and Sebastian Squillaci are not the options to turn to when the club are in need of maximum points. Drafting in Sagna at centre-back and holding steady when Jenkinson was sent off was a great show of confidence in the right-back, and which subsequently saw rewards all round.
Is this the turning of the page for Arsenal? I doubt it. For all the good that has come from games like this and other notable wins over the season, the team are yet to look convincing for a sustained period. A plus, however, is that the arrival of Nacho Monreal has seen back-to-back clean sheets, but we’ll refrain from drawing conclusions about Steve Bould’s input just yet.
There wasn’t really much of a story going into this game against Sunderland. A win was important and under any other circumstances, three points would have seemed completely different. But it’s the manner of victories like that which can force a wave of confidence to wash over the entire squad. The end result was much bigger than the scoreline suggests.