Do the Gunners have the mettle to handle a bit of argy-bargy?
Like muggers stealing up on their victims in a dark alley, Arsenal sense a growing threat to their Premier League title aspirations.
The brilliant but fragile striker Robin van Persie wrecks his ankle ligaments in the Italy v Holland friendly international and fullback Kieran Gibbs also damages an ankle in the England Under 21 fixture in Lithuania. First choice left-back Gael Clichy is already out injured with a bad back so it is anyone’s guess who will fill the left-back slot at Sunderland this weekend.
But those three are not the only casualties at Arsenal. Nicklas Bendtner and Theo Walcott are also sidelined as manager Arsene Wenger prepares for a tricky assignment.
Five points behind leaders Chelsea but with a game in hand, Arsenal’s recent form has been so imperious that it has persuaded some that those days of notorious Arsenal fragility, a weakness ruthlessly exposed by Manchester United in particular in several recent meetings, are no more.
But I wonder. Have the Londoners really now got an inner steel that would withstand even the most fired up and competitive Manchester United side ?
Do they have the mental fortitude to handle sickening injuries and keep driving themselves on to more victories ? We may be about to find out.
For all the genius of Cesc Fabregas against Tottenham and the darting, silky skilled touches of van Persie in front of him, have Arsenal really eliminated this weakness ?
It may well be that we won’t find out until United, filled with Sir Alex Ferguson’s usual fire and brimstone, meet them.
It is claimed that the growing influence of former Ajax Amsterdam central defender Thomas Vermaelen has transformed the Gunners, especially at the back. And undeniably, the big defender has stiffened the rearguard.
But can you spy a Roy Keane or Graeme Souness lurking in the Arsenal midfield, a player willing to go in where it hurts and, where necessary, leave his foot in long enough to cause damage.
All the great sides have possessed that type of midfield tiger. But can you seriously describe Fabregas, Arshavin, Diaby and company in such terms ? Only after a very decent night out down the pub, I reckon.
Only when Arsenal teams have confronted the likes of United and shackled the combative Scot Darren Fletcher, only when they’ve completely subdued Michael Essien, Michael Ballack and Frank Lampard in the Chelsea midfield will we know for sure that times have changed at The Emirates, that a new dawn has truly broken.
Sunderland this weekend might be an early test for them. Steve Bruce-managed teams tend not to lay down and surrender and Sunderland will look upon this weekend as an opportunity to examine the very credentials questioned here.
For better or worse, the word within Premier League circles is still that Arsenal remain vulnerable to intense pressure and a heavy physical approach.
Stand back and let them play and you will pay the price. But if the boots go in hard, have they really altered their psyche sufficiently to handle it and hit back?
The coming weeks may tell us.