A glorious summers day at the Emirates. The sun shining and the Arsenal came out to play Manchester United. It should have been the crunch game of the season. The winner was to take the spoils ... the Premier League title.
As it turned out, the last week saw Arsenal drop 9 out of a possible 11 points, and they are, for all intensive purposes, out of the race, but this match mattered for a whole host of other reasons.
On a practical level, Arsenal need the points to ensure a minimum of third place and automatic European qualification for next year. On an emotional level, they had to put in a performance against the league leaders to prove they are still contenders, and on a survival level, this was about Arsenal ending the season with respect. There has been too much bad press lately doom Arsenal, but they had to show that all is not lost. It may be (another) season without any silverware, but Arsenal remain in technical contention with just 4 games left in the season.
So the team came out, and after all the debate around Cesc Fabregas' future again, he was nowhere to be seen. Instead, the midfield was Wilshere, Ramsey and Song, and they proved today, beyond a doubt, that there can and will be life after Fabregas.
Today was a day when The Arsenal won 1-0. It was a super impressive performance against their biggest rivals. Admittedly Manchester United didn't look at their best, but Arsenal took the game to them. They dominated possession and played their beautiful passing game with no fear of their opposition. They worked hard, moved well, and eventually got the result they needed. A well crafted goal from Aaron Ramsey after a fine run by Van Persie. Perhaps more significantly even than the goal, was the resilience Arsenal showed after that as they ground out a result with resolute defending. So many times this year they have looked shaky at the back, and have never looked convincing when leading a game (even when 4-0 up!!!), but today was different. They looked confident and in control, and I hope this is a change of things for the future and better results for next year.
Alex Song was strong at the back of midfield, and Wilshere and Ramsey partnered superbly to show what the future of Arsenal football club holds.
The defence was strong (for once). They were resolute, solid and reliable and Szczesny was outstanding in goal. Commanding and reliable, for the first time in a while, I think Arsenal have a competent and reliable goalkeeper.
Up front, Van Persie worked tirelessly with Nasri and Walcott. Perhaps in the absence of Fabragas, all of these players are going to be able to come into their own and spread their wings. Nasri, the most skilful player in the Arsenal team (in my opinion), should have the freedom to flourish. He has ball skill and flair like no other.
The team played as a unit. They controlled possession and played their passing game as they wanted to. They did not cave to any pressure from their opposition. When the attacks didn't produce goals, every man on the pitch fought hard to keep or win back possession, and Man Utd, usually so powerful on the break, where largely ineffective.
I'm an eternal optimist, and as long as there is a mathmatical chance to win the league, I will not give up hope. A draw between Chelsea and United next week will really open things up, but I do accept that Arsenals chances are remote.
At the end of the day, I go home feeling this was a tremendously encouraging display by this Arsenal team and I believe gives hope for next season.
Arsene Wenger's way still has merit and his team still have ability and talent. Yes the defense can be strengthened and Vermaelen will be welcomed back, and a couple of "mediocre" players could be replaced by truly good players (read Denilson, Diaby, Squillaci, Eboue and , but this memoriable victory changes the feeling of all Arsenal supporters from their depressions of a week ago.
Hope reigns and a new season is not far away!