Opportunity knocks, but will we grasp it?

IT’S hard not to harbour hope of straddling the Premier League ship summit, subsequent to this evening’s encore with Owen Coyle’s side.

However, after beating Bolton at the Reebok, I won’t be at all surprised if we end up blowing this opportunity.

In our current injury-depleted guise, the Gunners seem more likely to produce the goods away from home. On Sunday, against a Wanderers side who were up for impressing their new gaffer and with the Bolton fans buoyed by having finally seen off Megson, this resulted in there being an “in yer face” intensity to this encounter that forced the pace from the first whistle.

Whereas at our place, we seem to struggle to start matches playing at such a high tempo, as we patiently prod the ball around, waiting for the opposition to run out of puff.

At the Reebok, there were times when four or five in red and white were streaking ahead of the ball, but inhibited by the lack of tempo at our gaff, I often find myself bemoaning the lack of bodies arriving in the box.

Evidently Cesc’s return on Sunday made a massive difference. Fab’s the maestro of Wenger’s orchestra, who gives the Gunners’ music its more incisive direction, making us effective, instead of merely pleasing to the eye.

With no-one expecting Bolton to better their home defeat, they have nothing to lose and with Wenger continuing to ‘make do and mend’ with our underwhelming strikeforce; comprising of Eduardo, still struggling to recover his sharpness, Arshavin, soldiering on with a sore right foot and an unproven Vela, I’m not exactly expecting the sort of “gimme” of a goalfest that Chelsea enjoyed against Sunderland.

The Blues sent out a message to all those of us who were hoping they might falter in the absence of the influential likes of Essien and Drogba. So in the event of us leapfrogging the league leaders, by beating Bolton again by a two-goal margin, I’m not going to get too excited. Only the most wildly optimistic Gooner would bet against the patently obvious advantage of the depth of Chelsea’s resources. Nor will I be too disappointed if the visitors should poop our midweek party.

Never mind an assault on the peak, as far as I’m concerned, I’m more than grateful merely to be breathing the rarefied air, atop the Premier League mountain.

Now if we’re still in contention in a month’s time, following successive fixtures against Villa, Man Utd, Chelsea and Liverpool and hopefully turning into the home straight with a squad approaching full strength, even my pessimistic self might begin to dream the impossible dream.

Nevertheless, no matter what the fates may hold in store for the Gunners, when you consider the Scousers anguish over events (both in the boardroom and on the pitch) at Anfield, the fiscal traumas at Old Trafford, the “financial doping” elsewhere and the fact that they can’t pay the wages at Fratton Park, such tumultuous times throw into stark contrast the miraculous tour de force of Arsène’s tenure.

Having overseen a revolution at the Arsenal, with reverberations that changed the face of British football, Le Gaffer has gone on to steer the club through the stormy, debt-ridden waters of our ambitious new stadium project, maintaining a competitive course, despite severe financial restraints, while consistently providing punters with the sort of breathtaking entertainment that has us drooling in our seats on a regular basis.

In the past, an Arsenal side that included debutantes like young Eastmond in a pivotal midfield role, might’ve been bullied into submission by Sam Allardyce’s Bolton. But there were signs on Sunday that our squad is beginning to develop some much-needed character and the sort of unity of purpose that enables us to win both pretty and ugly.

Needless to say, inconsistency (or perhaps complacency) elsewhere has kept us in contention. But nonetheless, in the absence of the likes of Van Persie and Bendtner, when I consider, on paper, the more potent looking front lines of some of our opponents, I’m more than a little incredulous that we’re managing to maintain our momentum.

Then again, nothing should surprise me in a ‘stranger than fiction’ season.

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