The difference a single goal can make to the perception of a performance is a remarkable thing.
Had Olivier Giroud not headed home the winning goal in the 86th minute of yesterday’s clash with West Bromwich, the resulting 0-0 draw would have been met with accusations of toothlessness and a lack of desire for the fight.
As it was, the Frenchman held off the attentions of his marker quite superbly to meet Mesut Ozil’s cross and head past Ben Foster in the visitor’s goal – turning the performance into one characterised by grit, spirit and an iron-will to win.
Those are the sort of fine margins between maximum points and dropped points, and between wild celebration and howls of derision.
All things considered, it was a pretty good performance from Arsenal, who created a lot of opportunities, kept hold of the ball well (70-30 in terms of possession) and played with a bit more purpose and intensity.
West Brom’s sole intention was to defend for the 0-0 draw, from the first minute to the last. It’s how manager Tony Pulis goes about his business. His reputation relies on it.
I think we all accept, in this day and age, that some teams and managers are happy to adjust their ambitions on a game-by-game basis, and taking a point is sometimes the primary objective.
So it came as no surprise that West Bromwich set out to do just that on Monday, with the obvious and unnecessary labouring over every throw, free-kick, and goal-kick testament to that desire to claim a point.
To that end, it was tremendously satisfying that Arsenal found enough in the tank to get the three points. They were badly needed, particularly after two lamentable capitulations at Everton and Manchester City.
This wasn’t a case a good fortune or a handy decision gifting us the win, victory was the result of perseverance, hard work, and taking the decisive chance when it came.
For many, our hopes of claiming the league title this year are already over and, had we not earned all three points last night, it would almost certainly have been true. We remain in the race by the skin of our teeth, though, thanks to the sort of battling qualities that have seen us escape tricky situations on a number of occasions this season.
On another day, the Baggies may well have clung on for the point and I’d be writing now about how we pick over the ruins of our league season. Instead, we fight on with a hint of momentum regained. Perception is everything.
Reasons to be cheerful
The Frenchman was restored to the starting line-up and played reasonably well, albeit shorn of the sort of service a player with his strengths should have been getting.
Although we improved after the break, we needed a few more crosses into the box to present a different challenge to the visitors, who had set up to congest the middle of the park.
Olivier has scored some important goals for us this season and his effort against West Brom was another for his collection. He’ll never be Cristiano Ronaldo but I think he is, at last, earning the sort of respect that his perseverance and scoring record deserves.
A clean sheet
For the first time in a millennium (or since Middlesbrough came to the Emirates at least), Arsenal came away from a Premier League fixture with a clean sheet. Granted, West Brom had almost no intention of scoring a goal, but we’ll take it nonetheless and, hopefully, it’s a few more minutes the back four has had to work as a unit and get used to playing together.
Lord knows we are going to need a few clean sheets in the month ahead, particularly as we can’t afford to drop any more points.