That headline is somewhat contrived. But it does underscore an important point: a year ago, Arsenal wouldn't have won 1-0 yesterday. Mr. Wenger often says the team is growing but year-on-year between 07-08 and 08-09 it seemed to have gone backwards not forwards. We were toothless in midfield and conceding stupid goals.
Now, if you write off Eastlands as an off day, we've been rather good this season. Liege scored one from open play, Celtic and Everton scored last minute consolations, and every other goal conceded came from a set piece. That isn't to say set piece goals don't count. But it does prove the defence is well organised - we're only conceding goals when we're reliant on people like Eduardo. Indeed, you could argue that both Standard goals came from set pieces.
And that is in no small part down to a new defensive resilience. I am a huge William Gallas fan and he made a superb tackle on Andy Johnson yesterday. But the one thing Gallas lacks is a brilliant aerial presence: don't get me wrong, he's good. Much better than Toure in fact. But with Tommy Vermaelen in at the back, you just feel more confident that the ball will get headed out and teams can't simply hoof a long ball over the Arsenal defence and score. It's an important attribute to have for it has brilliant repurcussions for the team: how often did Arsenal win 1-0 last season? I'm trying to think about it but the last 1-0 win I can remember offhand was in February against Roma so that says something.
I think yesterday showed exactly why we play RVP and Arshavin. They were both almost entirely on the periphery. I can remember RVP doing three things - playing Bendtner in, scoring the goal, and whacking a free-kick over. Arshavin was pretty much anonymous yesterday. But you pick them for that enigmatic quality. The fact you don't see them for 85 minutes and then they'll score you a goal.
Yesterday's goal was one of some beauty. Fabregas chipped a lofted past into RVP who with one touch controlled it and with his second touch, placed it plumb into the corner past the reach of Schwarzer. It was, dare I say it, a goal of champions. We were struggling away from home and we created something out of nothing. It was a goal which required world class players to execute: Fabregas and RVP fit the bill perfectly. All in all, it was a hugely pleasing goal.
On the other hand, I did want to say something about Arshavin. I know this could be construed as blasphemy considering the brilliant start he's had to his Arsenal career, but playing for Russia and Zenit, he occupied a much more central position. To me, it seems odd to waste him out wide, particularly once Rosicky is fully fit and wants to play in his natural position. The Bergkamp role definitely suits him, so lets see him play it.
Finally, to the subject of the headline. Fulham played really well yesterday: they defended excellently and perhaps more pertinently, they had several excellent chances to open the scoring or equalise. In a hard, physical afternoon's football, Arsenal were never going to control the opposition for 90 minutes. But the fact they didn't score is down mostly to one man: Vito Mannone. He only had 4 senior appearances before yesterday but that didn't seem to faze him. Having been lacklustre against Liege and average against Wigan, he was in inspired form yesterday, making brilliant saves on both sides of the goal. He saved several shots which Fulham must have felt would be in the back of the net. It is ironic that I advocated dropping him for Szcezny pre-match on the ground that Wojciech was inspired in mid-week. That said, Mannone's form could keep Almunia out the team. I don't agree with the suggestion that this is another diplomatic injury: despite being in poor form, Almunia is a better 'keeper than Mannone. But he has had a chest infection for a rather long time. In short, it's interesting.
It's a point which has been raised before on this blog, but Kevin Whitcher is spot on in his assessment that for Arsenal to succeed we need to win more matches and avoid costly draws. Wins like the one yesterday are exactly the type of result a team needs to become champions. That said, one swallow doesn't make a summer so lets not jump to any conclusions too early.
Keep the faith,
PS: To all Jews out there, have a good fast.