March 21, 2014

Last Sunday marked a milestone in Arsenal's campaign - the unofficial start to the run-in for the title race.

"It's not a marathon anymore, it's a sprint," said Mathieu Flamini prior to the weekend. "We have a few more games and we want to win every single one."

And there was no game we wanted to win any more than the third north London derby of the season. And a win this time would be extra special for a variety of reasons. It put us within four points of Chelsea – with a game in hand. We have gone five games without a win at White Hart Lane. A win would mark our third win of the season against them.

Check. Check. And check.

As Richard Clarke put it in his match report, the 1-0 win was "gritty, gutsy and nervy to the end." But it started in incredible fashion. Tomas Rosicky gave Arsenal the lead inside of two minutes with a stunning strike to the far corner - without a doubt a contender for goal of the season.

Arsenal had several chances to build on the lead, but a few miscues meant that we went into the break with just the one goal. Spurs came back strong in the second half and had two unbelievable chances in the opening minutes, but Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscienly more than earned their paychecks with a pair of stops.

"Our defenders have done extremely well because there is no ordinary moment in a game like that," said Arsène Wenger after the match."And they managed to keep their focus up completely for 90 minutes in every single game."

He later added, "We couldn't finish the game off. So we needed zero mistakes at the back and did that in a very convincing way."

The other results from the weekend made the three points even more valuable. Chelsea's loss combined with wins for both Man City and Liverpool made the title race as close as it has been in years.

And so Monsieur Flamini may be proved right: it will be a sprint to the end. But it will be a sorint that requires more than just a good set of spikes. Kieran Gibbs put it this way:

"I think we all know what we're capable of. But a lot of the time we're questioned for our character. I think today we've proved people wrong and now that's finished we have many big games left in the season and we have to show that character again and again. That's what will lead us to success."

Something else tremendous happened after the game. We have been treated to the hilariously spirited antics of Wojciech Szczesny before. Who can forget his reaction to that goal against Barcelona in 2011? This time he outdid himself. After the final whistle he asked Arsenal's equipment manager to bring him his phone. He then took a selfie in front of the away fans alongside Gibbo and Poldi (and part of the BFG's forehead.)

Pure awesomeness.

Off the pitch and away from the social media accounts, there was also some really big news. Aaron Ramsey, Santi Cazorla and Gedion Zelalem put pen to paper on new contracts that should keep them with the Club for a very long time. Rambo and Santi both talked about their deals after the news broke with the former talking about how much he has improved this season and how much more is to come from him. The Spaniard, meanwhile was able to put it in terms that will put a smile on every Gooner's face:

“I like being here, I'm happy and I think that the Club can be a big player in competing for the top trophies in years to come. That's important for me."

Many of us would quickly say that the biggest reason why Arsenal will be "a big player" comes down to one man: Arsène Wenger. The boss will manage his 1000th game for the Club on Saturday. To put how impressive this is in perspective, Wenger has been in charge of Arsenal for more than 17 years. No other manager in the Football League has 15 years with the same club. No other manager in the Football League has 10 years with the same club. No other manager in the Premier League has five years with the same club. Only two other managers have more than two years with the same club.

There's only one Arsène Wenger.

To mark #Wenger1000, here are some can't miss features:

Former players – and an old rival – paid tribute to his milestone.  

Josh James put his wonk skills to work this week to give us a statistical look at the boss's first 999 games.

The Club photographers picked their 10 favorite images of the boss.

As for the boss himself, he was humble and thoughtful as usual when asked about his tenure. The big takeaway is that he says he has learned something from every single game he has managed – especially those he lost.  And he added that the biggest reason he has been able to do it so long is his "love for people, players and for the game … and my excitement for the next game."

And the next game really couldn’t be much more exciting: Chelsea away. "It is the game of the season for us - it's as simple as that," he said in his pre-match press conference. And if you are looking for a couple more potential milestones here they are: Jose Mourinho hasn’t been defeated at Stamford Bridge in his 76 Premier League games as Chelsea manager and Jose Mourinho has never lost against Arsène Wenger as an opposition manager. 

As Nacho Monreal says, "There is no better moment to break that record than this weekend."

For Chelsea, Oscar and Eden Hazard are the danger men right now and you should expect that Chelsea will not be parking the bus in the same way they did at Emirates Stadium earlier this season. And due to a couple of suspensions, it's very likely that Andre Schurrle will feature as well, giving the Blues another big threat on the counter.

For Arsenal, the starting XI on Saturday should look very similar to the team that beat Spurs. There is a chance Rosicky could miss out, but otherwise the team news is as promising as you could hope for considering all the long-term injuries we are currently dealing with.

It is an early kick-off at Stamford Bridge, but for those of us in North America, we will be getting lost our hour of sleep back. The 12:45 p.m. kickoff in the UK this time translates into a slightly less painful 8:45 a.m. start on the East Coast due to Daylight Savings.

But sleep or no sleep, this is a huge, huge game and one that should not be missed.

UTA!

Copyright 2014 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source Kevin Mooney 21 Mar 2014