By Husmukh Kerai
Mikel Arteta’s second-half penalty against Wigan on Saturday afternoon shot Arsenal up to third, albeit temporarily, their highest league position of the season.
More importantly, though, the Spaniard’s calmly dispatched spot-kick secured Arsenal’s third consecutive league victory, the first time they have strung together a trio of wins this season. In fact, you have to go back to the end of March, when a Robin van Persie-inspired Gunners embarked on a seven-match winning streak, to find similar form from Arsene Wenger's side.
Consider also that the 5-2 victory away at Reading the previous Monday gave them back-to-back league wins for only the second time this campaign, and you really get a sense of how frustratingly inconsistent Wenger’s side have been this term. It’s quite incredible how a team of Arsenal’s standing have gone so long without being able to find anything that closely resembles form.
It’s been a case of one step forward and then two back for Arsenal this season, so far at least anyway.
The result at the DW Stadium offers some much needed momentum, finally. Winning is a habit, one Wenger’s side had seemed to have lost, but there are encouraging signs that they are now, bit by bit, putting the pieces of their season back together.
Let us not get carried away. Remove the result at the Madejski and you’re left with victories over West Brom and Wigan, with all three goals coming from the spot. The adage - winning ugly - is appropriate here. The Gunners are still miles away from their best, but it’s that type of scrappy result that they’ve previously thrown away this campaign.
Arsenal's midfield ratings at Wigan
The foundation for a successful Arsenal side is there to be built on, only Stoke can better their defensive record in the Premier League. Seven clean sheets this term will come as a surprise to many who still consider this side to be vulnerable in defence, but Wenger knows his best back five, and they are beginning to look the part, more so as each game passes.
The midfield trio of Arteta, Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla sums up everything that is good about this Arsenal side.
Cazorla is simply a joy to watch. Not only has he seamlessly integrated into the side, his ambidextrous talent and infectiously enthusiastic on-pitch demeanour have given Arsenal fans someone to serenade.
Arteta offers composure, the sort which is needed to convert match-winning penalties, having already missed a vital spot-kick this season.
But it’s Wilshere, more than anyone else, who embodies what Arsenal should strive for going forward. He wears his heart on his sleeve and displays the sort of spirit which can perhaps be compared to the effect that Roy Keane had at Manchester United in the 1990s.
He got kicked all afternoon against Wigan and spent large periods of the game hobbling about the pitch, but he took his punishment for the team and dished some of it back out when he could, without ever showing signs of weakness or a lack of desire to get up and get back on the ball. Exactly what Arsenal need when they aren’t allowed to play their free-flowing passing game.
The Gunners must wait a week for their next game, having to endure Boxing Day watching their rivals slog it out thanks to the postponement of their fixture against West Ham. The extra period of rest can come in handy in the festive schedule, yes; but it’s all about momentum at this stage of the season.
You could count on one hand the amount of times Wenger has been able to field his strongest possible XI over the past year, so the Frenchman is understandably annoyed at the inconvenience.
At times Gunners’ fans have been left scratching their heads over the last two years, wondering if the much-maligned Arsene Wenger has lost his mojo in the transfer market. Acquisitions such as Andre Santos and Gervinho have been far from inspiring; it’s looked very much like a patch-up job in all honesty.
The news earlier this week, however, of the club managing to tie down a quintet of their best young British talent is certainly a step in the right direction. It indicates that perhaps the Frenchman does indeed have a master plan up his sleeve.
Slowly and steadily Wenger’s Arsenal are beginning to move forward, they look more balanced and solid as a side than at any time since the beginning of the season. There is now a cautious sense of hope that something significant can be achieved by this team in 2013.
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