With a tireless Aaron Ramsey feeding off Olivier Giroud’s excellent hold-up play, this performance was almost reminiscent of our table-topping performances of 2013/14.
With West Ham without three of their first choice back-four, Giroud’s powerful hold-up play and deft touch was simply too much for them to handle. Arsenal also benefited from another virtuoso display from Mesut Ozil, who is certainly in the midst of his best run of form since joining from Real Madrid. After the match, Arsene Wenger told Arsenal.com rather emphatically that “Ozil has now adapted”. He took his time, but recent evidence suggests he will prove to be worth the wait.
With Manchester City losing at Burnley later in the day, Arsenal are now just one point off second place.
After the game, the boss was asked if we are now part of the title race:
Not at the moment but we just have to keep going. We’ve won eight of the last nine and we are stronger today than we were at the start of the season. We dropped off in this league because we won one of six at the start of the season. Today we are a different team. We suffered a lot from the post-World Cup fixtures. Players came back and they weren’t ready to play.
He’s right: Arsenal can’t win the title this season because of the disastrous way in which they began the campaign.
With the Gunners now ensconced in third place and looking ahead to an FA Cup semi-final, it’s easy to forget what a tumultuous start to the season it was.
Wenger refers to one win in six, but that record is actually across all competitions. In the Premier League, we won just two of our opening eight games.
That’s dire. Had Arsenal managed to convert draws with Leicester, Everton, and Hull in to wins, we’d currently sit joint-top of the Premier League. Yes, Chelsea would have games in hand, but they’d also have a daunting trip to the Emirates Stadium to come.
The reasons we failed to find our gear are well-documented. There were new players to integrate, injuries to account for and a World Cup hangover to endure.
Intriguingly, Chelsea had plenty of players at the World Cup but started like a house on fire. The other day I read some criticism of Jose Mourinho, suggesting their recent struggles are due to the fact that some of their players were overplayed in the first half of the season. Perhaps so, but when Chelsea eventually stumble over the finish line as champions, it will largely be down to the spectacular way in which they began the season. They built a lead that is likely to prove insurmountable.
Why were they able to start so much quicker? I guess in part due to the availability of key players through their spine — by contrast, the absence of Laurent Koscielny and Olivier Giroud clearly destabilised this Arsenal team. What’s more, we started the season with three world cup winners in the squad. Who knows to what extent their motivation and focus was disturbed by lifting football’s most famous prize?
Anyway, the fact we’re even having this (admittedly somewhat one-sided) conversation is pretty remarkable given how bleak things looked after the November defeat against Stoke. I put much of the optimistic mood down to the win at Old Trafford. Had we lost, we’d be out of the domestic cups and staring glumly down the barrel of a Champions League exit.
Now, we’re dreaming of second place and an unlikely comeback in Monaco. Thanks to the Cup, the glass is half-full.