March 22, 2013

It's time we admit it. Being an Arsenal supporter is the sporting version of being bi-polar. The lows are agonizing. But the highs, oh the sweet, sweet highs…

Highs like that big win in Munich last week. People were predicting a blowout. An embarrassment. And then we walked away with a 2-0 win over one of the best clubs in Europe.  

As for the lows, we don’t need to dwell on them, but if you haven’t purged December 1 from your memory banks, you may recall a 2-0 loss to Swansea at home. We were actually staring at a still annoying scoreless draw, but then two goals from Michu in the final three minutes and… well, you get the point.

So Arsenal traveled to south Wales to exact some vengeance on Saturday. Coming off Bayern, hopes were high. Arsène Wenger made three changes to the line-up, but nothing too extreme. He clearly wasn't too keen to mess with something that worked so well, especially after describing the game as "win at all costs." And a win became even more vital after Everton momentarily went above us in the table after topping Man City at Goodison Park.

Still, there were still two notable - albeit unsurprising - absentees from the starting XI. Laurent Koscielny kept his place ahead of captain Thomas Vermaelen and Lukasz Fabianski stayed between the sticks in place of Wojciech Szczesny. For Koscielny it was another example of his return to form after struggling in the early part of the season. And as far as Fabianski goes, Wenger has noted the Pole's character and desire to show what he is truly capable of.

In the end, it was the substitutes that made the difference. Gervinho went close immediately after coming on. And about four minutes later Arsenal grabbed the lead on Nacho Monreal's first goal in an Arsenal shirt. Swansea fought back and came close to equalizing, but in the end, Aaron Ramsey set up Gervinho in stoppage time to seal the win and secure those invaluable three points. 

Something is different with this team now. One element is pretty obvious considering we've kept consecutive clean-sheets. Per Mertesacker revealed that the defenders took it upon themselves to take an extra hard look at what happened in those awful two minutes against Spurs. "The most important thing we learned was to cover each other more. There were a lot of situations where there was no pressure on the ball and the back four was not prepared for any balls between us."

Theo Walcott also touched on another tweak the team addressed. Communication on the pitch. "We have definitely been too quiet in the past, we have been afraid to tell each other what to do at times," he said.

And the manager was thrilled with the overall performance. He praised the players' attitude and declared his team ready for the final run-in. "The solidarity they showed are qualities that will be needed until the last day of the season." He also spoke of belief and confidence on the pitch, and pointed to Gervinho's goal as something that could be a springboard to even better things.

The win put pressure on Chelsea and Spurs who both played on Sunday. And now just seven points separate third and sixth in the table. But Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain made clear that Arsenal can't worry about anyone but themselves. "There are a lot of teams around us who we can’t control," he said. "We can only control ourselves and we’ll see what happens at the end.”

While we don't completely have our fate in our own hands, we are pretty close. With nine games remaining, we are four out of fourth – but with a game in hand. If we can stay healthy and put together a nice winning run, we may not have to worry too much about what the other teams do.

Of course, with an international break upon us, we have until March 30 for league play to get back underway. The good in that is that some of our players will have an opportunity to get fit without missing any playing time. The other side of that coin is that as many as 13 of our current players could be lining up for their national teams.

Among the Gunners who won't be wearing their nation's colors are About Diaby and Carl Jenkinson. Diaby has 16 caps for France, but his injury history has prevented him from taking a regular spot for Les Bleus. Although considering that he's kept reasonably fit this season means that he may not be on the outside looking in for much longer. Same with Jenkinson. The right-back has one cap to his name, but if there is one thing we know about the Corporal, he won’t rest until he earns a regular place in the England squad.

World Cup qualifiers aside, next week will not be entirely Arsenal-less. On Monday, the U-19s will take on CSKA Moscow in the NextGen Series Quarter-Finals at the Emirates. It's an incredible opportunity for the young players – and the fans. The winner will take on Chelsea in the semis in Como, Italy on March 29.

Enjoy the weekend fellow Gooners. We will return to regular programming in eight days.  

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Kevin Mooney 22 Mar 2013