If you were to have a conversation with an Arsenal fan a few days ago you would have been mistaken to think their trophy drought was a thing of the past.
There has been a renewed optimism among the Arsenal faithful in North London and across the world this season.
Arsenal are playing the football of their lives- effervescent, controlled, tactical, organized, arrogant even. Teams that have stood in their way have been brushed aside with embarrassing ease. Superlatives have been flowing as the well oiled Gunners machine marched on incessantly game after game. An impressive 2-0 win over fellow title hopefuls Liverpool at the Emirates was followed by a solitary away goal win over Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League. Arsenal had confounded all their critics by putting together a series of memorable wins.
Coming into the big clash with Manchester United on the 10th of November the Gunners were seeking to re-install their 5 point lead in the League after the lead was momentarily cut down to two points by Liverpool. Arsenal were also excelling in Europe where they were dining with the table toppers in the Champions league. Nothing could stop the Arsenal. Or so it seemed. It was no wonder then that their fans were hoping and dreaming once again.
Arsenal's success so far was in no small measure to the euphoria brought about by the club's dramatic 42million capture of playmaker Mesut Ozil and a new found dynamism in all departments on the field.
Players like Aaron Ramsey, Olivier Giroud and Jack Wilshere had found a new sense of direction and Arsene Wenger has so far played his cards quite well. With both Manchester City and Tottenham losing to Sunderland and Newcastle respectively before the big game the stage was set for Arsenal to completely silence their ever diminishing group of critics by trouncing a worthy foe.
It was not to be. Buoyed by a recent resurgence and determined to claw themselves into title contention Manchester United did what they do so well - beat an in form Arsenal side. The Red Devils victory was achieved courtesy of a headed goal by Robin Van Persie (who else) in the 27th minute. Arsenal were surprisingly insipid and lethargic on the night. Their midfield was kept in check throughout and Olivier Giroud who started off as the lone striker was pedestrian at best.
Mesut Ozil who so far this season has been at his inspirational best was left counting blades of grass on the centre circle.
The issue of Arsenal’s depth was brought to the fore again. With time running out Wenger called on Niklaus Bendtner to conjure defeat from the jaws of victory. For a player who last scored for Arsenal 3 years ago it was not surprising that he failed to trouble the score keepers.
The writing was on the wall once United went into the break leading 1-0. The Manchester club have never lost a home game in the top flight where they have led 1-0 at half time, a proud record that has not been broken for over 100 years stretching into 221 games. At the end of the game the record stood proud primed for another encounter. It’s not surprising that Manchester United won. The Red devils have this uncanny knack of breaking Arsenal's stride when the Gunners are at their very best, the most memorable occasion being when they brought Arsenal's (then dubbed the Invincibles) record breaking 49 match unbeaten streak to a shuddering halt in 2004.
In that game goals by Ruud van Nistelrooy and Wayne Rooney gave the Reds a 2-0 victory at Old Trafford over the then league-leading Arsenal. In the end Chelsea won the league that season by a handsome 12 points from a floundering Arsenal.
The parallels between that game in October 2004 and this weekend's crunch tie were clearly evident. With the hard fought victory the Red Devils have now taken a giant step towards Premier league revival.
On the other hand the Gunners have seen their lead at the top cut down to two points and questions being asked about the character of the team.
More importantly the result has added credence to the school of thought that a team is not measured by the games it has won before but by the fortitude it displays when it has to bounce back from adversity.
For Arsenal their resilience will be tested with the visit of Southampton to the Emirates two weeks from today as the Saints who are an impressive third on the table aim to further ground the Gunners.
The International break could not have come at a better time for Arsenal as the respite will allow them to regroup and also facilitate the return of some of their injured players.
Southampton based on the impressive results they have managed so far will be no push overs. All eyes will be on Arsenal as they seek to prove that the loss to Manchester United was just a momentary stumble on their road to Premier League glory and a trophy after more than 8 years in the wilderness.
(The writer is an ardent sports fan)