Arse­nal prove they can fight for the league ti­tle

7 Days in Dubai - - FRONT PAGE -

Af­ter Arse­nal’s goal­less draw with Mid­dles­brough at the Emi­rates last week­end the in­evitable ques­tions were raised about the north Lon­don side’s ti­tle cre­den­tials.

That frus­trat­ing re­sult led many to sug­gest the Gun­ners would once again flat­ter to de­ceive this sea­son and when Jer­main De­foe made it 1-1 af­ter 62 min­utes at Sun­der­land yes­ter­day the naysay­ers were once again out in full force. But a mere 14 min­utes later Arse­nal were cel­e­brat­ing a fourth goal and prov­ing that there is steel and de­ter­mi­na­tion in this side.

This rapid re­sponse to dis­ap­point­ment has not been a trait of­ten as­so­ci­ated with Arsene Wenger’s side in re­cent years. Too of­ten they have ca­pit­u­lated when things have not been go­ing their way.

How­ever, at the Sta­dium of Light there were plenty of rea­sons for Arse­nal fans to be cheer­ful.

Alexis Sanchez is ex­celling in his role as a striker, tak­ing to the chal­lenge much in the same way Thierry Henry thrived when moved from a wide po­si­tion into the cen­tre by Wenger all those years ago.

There is strength on the bench with Olivier Giroud mak­ing an in­stant im­pact, while Theo Wal­cott and Alex Oxlade-Cham­ber­lain fi­nally look threat­en­ing af­ter years of frus­tra­tion.

But it is per­haps the spine of this Arse­nal side that will please the fans the most.

In Shko­dran Mustafi, Wenger has found a re­li­able and ac­com­plished part­ner for Lau­rent Ko­scielny, while Petr Cech will al­ways pro­duce saves that will win Arse­nal im­por­tant vi­tal points through­out the sea­son.

Then, in the heart of midfield, Arse­nal have pro­tec­tion for their pre­vi­ously frag­ile de­fence in Mo­hamed El­neny, Fran­cois Co­quelin and Granit Xhaka – who missed the Sun­der­land game through sus­pen­sion.

Gone is the soft cen­tre seen at the start of the sea­son against Liver­pool, now Arse­nal have the steel needed to al­low their at­tack­ing play­ers to flour­ish.

On pa­per rock-bot­tom Sun­der­land – who look des­tined for rel­e­ga­tion this sea­son – may not have ap­peared the ul­ti­mate lit­mus test but it was an ex­am­i­na­tion that all-too of­ten Arse­nal would have failed.

Wenger knew it too, judg­ing by his com­ments af­ter the game. He said: “At 1-1 you can lose the game but it was how we re­spond. Do we panic, give up, feel sorry for our­selves? We re­sponded well and in the end it was a com­fort­able win.”

There will be big­ger tests ahead, but Arse­nal play­ers and fans have rea­sons to feel op­ti­mistic.

RAPID RE­SPONSE: Olivier Giroud scored twice af­ter Arse­nal had been pegged back by lowly Sun­der­land

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