Aaron Ramsey gave Arsenal what it craved, a goal and leadership. The Welsh midfielder had big shoes to fill starting in place of Cesc Fabregas but he grew in confidence and asserted his place in midfield. One moment crystallized this boldness when Robin Van Persie cut back, looked up, and found Ramsey at the top calling for the ball. It was a perfect finish as the midfielder squeezed it past Van Der Sar with a lovely angled shot.
Justice extracted for Nemanja Vidic’s sly handball which should have been a penalty and red card but was missed by Chris Foy’s officiating crew. Foy it should be said almost played like Utd’s 12th man interjecting his body exasperatingly in the way of some promising buildups. He and the linesmen were rightly booed off at halftime.
A goal of precarious beauty. Who knew how long Arsenal had left to savour? Previous editions have shown the Gunners at their vulnerable worst just after such moments. Ramsey’s first Premier League goal should have been a wildly exuberant occasion but the celebrations were tempered with the current reality. It called for leadership qualities and he came to the fore immediately organizing the defense waving Song and Wilshere to fall back as Utd launched their expected counterattacks. Arsenal were helped by an underwhelming Rooney and Chicharito Hernandez but the Emirates have seen Arsenal die a thousand deaths before through self inflicted wounds and not endeavour.
Forty minutes separated the side from the agony and the ecstasy. A win would have huge for Man Utd’s title hopes. For Arsenal it was colossal. If self esteem can be measured in yards from a yawning abyss, then the London team were an inch from the precipice.
Samir Nasri’s injury force out at half time was a dismaying development but Andrey Arshavin, his replacement made his mark in an unexpected way. The Russian so fond of steaming upfield without the due diligence of tracking back showed a penchant for timely tackles. Arsenal’s improved effort on defense stemmed from Jack Wilshere and Alex Song successfully sniffing out incipient attacks. Laurent Koscielny also caught the eye with his tough marshaling. And Bakary Sagna came out best in an absorbing duel with both Nani and Patrice Evra.
The introduction of both Sebastian Squillaci and Emmanuel Eboue was met with murmurs of trepidation. The former’s vulnerability against pace is well documented but Wenger had no choice because of Johan Djourou’s injury. The Cote d’Ivoirian’s was a definite gamble given his propensity for mentally fragile moments. Wenger probably deciding Walcott could do no more.
Arsenal dodged another painful end when Chris Foy overlooked Michael Owen getting tangled up in added time for a penalty call. For an added bonus the sight of Wojciech Szczesny milking the clock in perfectly intelligent ways shows a goalkeeper fully confident in his powers. He did not have very much to do except for a couple of Rooney free kicks and a save off a Nani snapshot.
The gap between Chelsea and Man Utd close to three and if Utd have to win the title they will have to do it at home next weekend against their second placed opposition. For a match, the Emirates was not their happy hunting grounds. If they win the title it will be despite their poor away record. Fortress Old Trafford remains their best bet.