Last week, my post would have surprised many because I didn’t feel the title race was over for the Arsenal following a shambolic performance at Stamford Bridge. I wrote it on the Tuesday afternoon but by 9.40 that night, any hope of us winning our first Championship in a decade had died. My ridiculous (some might say) optimism all boiled down to our game in hand at home to Swansea City. We were 7 points adrift from the top after the Chelsea defeat put a victory against the Jacks would cut the deficit to only 4. My plan didn’t materialise though.
Any flickering hope of the title was extinguished within 11 minutes when Bony easily beat Vermaelen in the air to open the scoring. Arsenal looked like a team who had recently been thrashed 6-0 and lacked the confidence to get back into the match. That was changed when Wenger threw some wood on the fire in the form of a second half substitution. Podolski came on for Oxlade-Chamberlain in the 57th minute and definitely improved the team as they pushed for an equaliser. The pressure paid off as the game was turned on its head when Podolski and Giroud finished off two crosses to put the home side 2-1 up.
This season the Arsenal have prided themselves on taking the lead and holding onto it, with the recent result against Tottenham being a prime example of that (went 1-0 up in just over a minute then hung on). However once we had fought back to take the lead on Tuesday, the question on everyone’s lips was can Arsenal hold on and pass the test of Champions? The answer was a resounding no. An own-goal in injury time is quite unfortunate but the almost comical events that lead to Flamini putting the ball in his own net summed up the North London’s club failure in the past week or so and why they almost certainly will not win the league this year.
Being pegged back for a 2-2 draw by Swansea was disappointing but Chelsea suffered a surprising 1-0 away loss to Crystal Palace, which inconceivably blew the title race wide open again for us. A win against Manchester City (arguably the best team in the Premier League) would elevate us to 3rd position, only three points behind the leaders. However another sluggish start meant that we were, for the second home match in a row, 1-0 down at half time. Flamini did hit back with a cool finish past a despairing Joe Hart but it was too little, too late for Arsenal in terms of reviving any Championship hopes.
I waved the white flag and said we should concentrate on the FA Cup after losing away at Stoke at the beginning of March but it was still too early to give up all together. I then got caught up in the euphoria of a classic North London Derby victory and started believing the race was back on. Like I said, even after the trouncing at the hands of Chelsea, I was still blindly optimistic. Maybe if we had converted the two recent draws into wins, we would have stood a chance as we come into April. The reality though is that a seven point gap is definitely a bridge too far.
I’m not saying completely give up on the league from now on because securing a Top 4 place is vital and still not wrapped up (cannot underestimate Everton). I’m just saying that winning our first piece of silverware in 9 years is so important, both for the supporters and the club moving forward.
By Glen Shorey