I think this is the part where I tell you it’s back on? So: it’s back on!
The run through January inspired little but doubt, with Arsenal conceding a late equaliser at Anfield before a goalless draw against Stoke City. It was a tough week and there weren’t too many complaints, but two more goalless league games saw home games against Chelsea end in defeat and a draw.
Four games, three points, three matches without a goal. Last weekend’s defeat of Bournemouth brought back some hope, but the performance was a little unconvincing and Leicester City’s win at the Etihad meant we remained five points behind and faced the Foxes in our next game. At half-time we looked likely to be eight points behind, but the win from 1-0 down leaves us just two points off the top. So yeah, it’s back on.
There’s a long way to go and we have a lot of tough away games, but a win like Sunday’s can only inspire “unbelievable belief” within the squad.
Unfortunately, Spurs are level on points with us and also have some unbelievable belief of their own, winning against Manchester City this weekend to boost their own title ambitions.
As the season goes on, making the right decisions will be crucial, and that applies to players, managers and referees. Decisions will ultimately determine where the title ends up.
The Arsenal players didn’t always cover themselves in glory today, from Oxlade-Chamberlain’s early reluctance to pull the trigger and Laurent Koscielny’s rash challenge in the build-up to Leicester City’s penalty to the decision of a lot of our players to constantly cross the ball when restarting play was a better option. The game was arguably lost by Leicester right-back Danny Simpson, who made the decision to tug back Olivier Giroud just moments after picking up a yellow card. It was nothing big but a moment of silliness saw him booked again and left his side with just 10 men for 40 minutes.
At that point, Claudio Ranieri made a poor decision and handed Arsenal the initiative. The Italian subbed Riyad Mahrez to restock his backline with Marcin Wasilewski, who had failed to have much of an impact up to that point. That allowed Arsenal’s fullback who makes the most sensible decisions in possession, Nacho Monreal, to attack more freely with little concern about defending. Ranieri seemed to realise the error quite soon, replacing Shinji Okazaki with Demarai Gray just minutes later. It was too late. Gray is talented but nowhere near as decisive as Mahrez, and Ranieri could hardly change the game again having made two of his subs for no reason. Arsenal had the initiative, and Arsène Wenger seized it.
If the game was won by Arsenal rather than lost by Simpson, it was Wenger’s bold decisions which made the difference. Hooking Francis Coquelin for Theo Walcott when Leicester went down to 10 was a big call, risking a lack of defensive cover, but it paid off and Walcott scored the equaliser. At that point, Wenger went for it. Oxlade-Chamberlain departed and Danny Welbeck was in. The decision to include Welbeck wasn’t even made until Saturday, as he wasn’t thought to be ready.
Of course, Danny would go on to score the winner after 10 months out. What a brave call to put him in the squad, and an even braver one to chase all three points with Ramsey, Özil, Walcott, Alexis, Giroud and Welbeck all playing the final 10 minutes. It paid off.
But the Gunners could have lost the game, and the result swung hugely on the decisions of referee Martin Atkinson. He failed to award Arsenal a foul before Leicester broke to win the penalty that gave them the lead. The referee then sent off Danny Simpson, arguably softly, before failing to punish Danny Drinkwater for a disgusting tackle on Aaron Ramsey.
Welbeck got booked for over celebrating. Making the important calls, eh Martin? pic.twitter.com/DHzckrTYFw
— Daily Cannon (@DailyCannon) February 14, 2016
In the late kick-off on Sunday, Tottenham took the lead in an incredibly cagey match with a very controversial penalty. To be frank, it shouldn’t have been given. Sunday’s refereeing in two enormous games is great evidence for the argument in favour of video assistance, but I’m not going to go down that route now.
Mark Clattenburg, Martin Atkinson, Claudio Ranieri, Danny Simpson and Arsène Wenger all made huge calls on Sunday afternoon, all of which may have just won or lost someone the title.
There are so many variables in this race. Often we look at the league table and say we can only control our own results, but even that isn’t strictly true. Atkinson chose not to give a foul, Jamie Vardy chose to kick Monreal and buy a penalty, and two huge choices like that could have thrown Arsenal out of the title race.
Thankfully, we can control our own decisions. If we keep making the right ones, we’ll have a hell of a shot at glory.