Resilience And Brilliance: Arsenal Find The Substance To Back Up Their Quality

Mikel Arteta's men have added determination to their obvious ability
14:00, 20 Feb 2023

Gutsy. Determined. Passionate. Successful. Four words that you could not use to describe Arsenal over the past few years. Conversely, they are four words that you could use to describe them this season and, in particular, last Saturday. The Gunners are in a Premier League title race for the first time since Arsene Wenger’s long coat cast a lengthy shadow in these north London corridors. The reason isn’t quality as much as it is resilience, personality and mentality.

At half time on Saturday, Mikel Arteta’s side were 2-1 down to Aston Villa. Having failed to win their last three league games, Arsenal’s title challenge looked set to crumble. The fact former Gunners boss Unai Emery was occupying the Villa dugout added to the embarrassment.


Arsenal capitulate. It’s what they do. They did it as recently as last season, when an initially promising run towards Champions League qualification eroded before their weary eyes. North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur leapfrogged them into the continental competition. Last season’s fifth place finish was preceded by a pair of eighth places. Before this season, a sole FA Cup under Arteta was the only evidence that this team doesn’t always collapse when it matters.

Even with Arsenal sitting atop the table for much of this season, many refused to ratify their title credentials. When Everton beat them 1-0 in the first game of Sean Dyche’s Merseyside tenure, they crowed about Arsenal bottling it once again. When Brentford took a point from the title-chasing Gunners, the shouts of derision got louder. By the time Manchester City outfoxed them 3-1 in a touted title decider, public opinion had been swayed completely. This Arsenal team was doing what every post-Wenger, and a few late-era Wenger, Arsenal teams did. They were capitulating. 

This capitulation appeared to be playing out at Villa Park over the weekend. Goals from Ollie Watkins and Philippe Coutinho gave Villa a half time lead, with Bukayo Saka’s 16th minute strike the only riposte. The second half brought an Oleksandr Zinchenko equaliser but, with just added time to play, it looked like that would be as good as it got.


Perhaps for previous Arsenal sides, it would have been. In the past a 2-2 draw may have even seemed like a point gained rather than two lost, particularly away from home. But Arteta’s current Gunners vintage have loftier goals. A 93rd minute own goal from Emiliano Martinez and a 98th minute strike from Gabriel Martinelli made sure they remain on course for their title target.

It was an imperfect afternoon from a quality perspective. But Arsenal have had quality before and lacked what they brought to the table here. The Emirates has played host to the primes of some of this generation’s best players. Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang were genuinely world class talents who lent Arsenal their best years. But they never lifted the Premier League title because the teams within which they shone lacked the stomach for the fight. 

It was suspected that this current Arsenal side did too. But the way they fired back against Villa suggests they are far from done. Despite their patchy recent form, they sit top of the table and two points clear of City in second. They also have a game in hand over Pep Guardiola’s men. The winter World Cup leaves us with more football to play than usual, and the Gunners will have to show plenty more bottle over the ensuing 15 games. But Arteta has got Arsenal looking like a side with plenty of bottle, as well as quality, left in the tank.

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