For a side playing as well as Arsenal, sometimes cruising to victory just isn’t enough.
Sometimes, in the true spirit of competition, and with a selfless thought for the enjoyment of the neutral fan, you have to dangle the feint hope of victory in front of your opponent – giving them the opportunity to make a game of it.
Never has that been more capably demonstrated than at the Emirates on Saturday as Arsenal simultaneously dazzled – and then capitulated – against an average Swansea side.
For the majority of the game, Arsenal were simply too good for the visitors. They pressed well, they attacked quickly and in numbers, and they created excellent opportunities.
They seemed to pick up where they had left off before the international break and were rewarded for their efforts with two quick-fire goals to put them in control.
Theo Walcott continues to impress. After a quiet few games for England, he showed a superb poacher’s instinct to pounce on two very slack episodes of defending from the visitors.
With the match all but put beyond Swansea, however, we did the most Arsenal of things. Granit Xhaka was robbed of possession barely 30 yards from goal, leaving his centre backs horribly exposed and powerless to stop Gylfi Sigurdsson from smashing home from close range.
It was needless and careless in equal measure. It was the sort of foot-shooting mistake that we have seen time and again over the years – to our great cost – and, in an instant, the complexion of the match was turned on its head.
Nagging self-doubt and anxiety spread through the team. In truth, we were a little fortunate not to go in at half-time at level-pegging, given that the visitors spurned a very good opportunity just moments before the break.
We emerged after the break a little calmer and with a semblance of control restored. We started to create chances again and looked like the team that had been so comfortably in the ascendancy for most of the first half.
When Mesut Ozil scored, fans breathed a collective sigh of relief (a majestic volley, by the way) and it should have been the signal for the flood gates to open. Swansea looked all out of hope and ideas and were, in truth, there for the taking.
Arsenal decided to take a different course.
With the players seemingly satisfied with their afternoon’s work, the flicks and tricks started to come out. Situations that required a well-directed pass to convert into a clear-cut opportunity were spurned in favour of something more audacious and altogether unnecessary.
The pressing and intensity also ground to a halt and responsibilities were shirked. It was then, when we were at our most lackadaisical, that Swansea took advantage.
Nacho Monreal was left exposed and without support and Modou Barrow, the Swansea right winger, had a field day. After an anonymous first hour, Barrow suddenly had the beating of the Spaniard and waltzed around him time and again.
It was from one of these sorties down the wing that Swansea added their second of the afternoon. It really was poor all round from Arsenal, who had switched off almost all over the pitch.
To compound the angst that was now gripping the stadium, Xhaka was handed a straight red card that, frankly, beggared belief. It was a tactical foul on the half-way line. It was the kind of foul that players make routinely now in order to stop a breakaway, and was worthy only of a yellow.
When I saw the referee reach for his back pocket, I was genuinely flabbergasted. It was a miserable afternoon for Xhaka and ended by leaving his team well and truly up against it.
To their credit, the team re-organised and re-focussed. That’s not to say that Swansea didn’t create two or three very good chances – chances which they should have done better with – but Arsenal did at least begin pressing again and managed to get some sort of grip on the defensive side of the game.
In the last 10 minutes we had some glorious opportunities of our own to put the game beyond doubt, but there seemed to be a touch of the old Arsenal in how we went about finding clever ways of not scoring.
Combinations of bad luck, poor finishing, and foolishly falling for basic offside traps meant we finished the game wringing our hands when we should have been three or four goals clear.
In the end, it didn’t matter, and we collected the three points. Six successive victories is a superb return and we have the opportunity in the weeks ahead of extend that.
But we must learn the lessons of the Swansea game. In seasons gone by, we would undoubtedly have folded under the pressure and drawn – or even lost – but, this time around, we didn’t.
There was enough belief and enough bloody-mindedness to see us through, and that was great.
Complacency is never far from our game, however. The players must remain switched on for 90 minutes. Belief and confidence is to be admired and celebrated but there is such a fine line between those qualities and the insidious effect of laziness and arrogance.
But for a slice or two of good fortune, we may have thrown away the points against a side who should never have managed two goals.
I’m quite sure nobody minds the team losing if they are outclassed or simply unlucky, but nothing quite annoys like a comfortable win thrown away because of complacency.
There was plenty to take away from this game, both positive and negative, and it will hopefully serve as a lesson to the squad that matches are never won until the referee blows his whistle.