Arsenal’s victory over Newcastle last weekend was the classic example of a game of two halves. Having dominated the opening 45 minutes, the Gunners were seemingly cruising to victory thanks to Olivier Giroud’s brace, sending them in two nil up at the break. But a much improved second-half performance from the home side saw them run out unfortunate losers as Arsenal held on to win 2-1.
Despite the initial sense of relief at having made the victory hard work for themselves, there was much to pleased about for Arsenal fans. Playing their fourth game in two weeks, and third away from home, it was refreshing to see the Londoners once again dig in and show their battling qualities to hang on and claim victory.
Recent weeks have shown a new resilient side to Arsene Wenger’s side, something he was quick to praise following their latest victory. Having won at Old Trafford to book their place in another FA Cup semi-final, they were unfortunate not to progress in the Champions League, narrowly losing out on away goals to Monaco, despite looking the better side across the two legs.
And aside from their defensive naivety in the first leg of that tie, there seems to be a growing consistency regarding their ability to see out a game when in the lead. There have been plenty of examples in recent years where Arsenal have succumbed to poor errors at the back, which has ultimately cost them points as they failed to hold on to victory. At times, particularly away from home, there was almost an inevitability that no matter how well they were playing, they would do something to let themselves down and throw the game away. A prime example we all remember being their ability to squander a four-goal lead at St James’ Park a few years back.
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However, slowly but surely they appear to be developing into a side that has the ability to protect a lead in a resilient and determined fashion. Their victory at the Etihad earlier this season highlighted this perfectly in what many described as their best away performance in years. Having conceded six times in the same fixture the previous season, Wenger set his side up in a far more defensive system, with Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin flourishing in the centre of the pitch.
The way in which they were able to see out the game with apparent ease against the defending champions was hugely encouraging for the club, and something that improves their chances of competing against the very best clubs if they can repeat it.
And although visibly tired from their midweek exertions in France, they were able to show this resilient side once again on Saturday when their backs were against the wall as they hung on to remain third in the table and cement their bid for a top-four spot.
There were times when an Arsenal team would have failed to see out a game like this, but nowadays they appear much more capable at churning out results, even when they aren’t on top in the match. With the likes of Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny and new signing Gabriel Paulista, they certainly have the personnel to defend a lead effectively, as proved at Newcastle.
There’s no doubting they are a joy to watch at times, and they continue to be considered the best passing team in the country. But an attractive style of football alone is not enough to win you trophies and ensure a push for the title year in year out. If they can continue to combine their qualities with the ball with the new-found resilience and defensive solidarity that has been on show at times this season, then there is no reason they cannot begin to challenge the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City and become genuine title contenders once again in seasons to come.