Why We Should Thank Chelsea
Yeah, I know you'll be reading that headline and thinking 'and why's that's then???' and will take some convincing. But I think that Chelsea have, in a strange way, done us a favour in their 'buy-the-league' policy (I'm not trying to incite any Chelsea fans, but it is popular opinion that that is what Chelsea did since Roman took charge...).
Since Roman came to prominence and Maureen took charge (now sadly gone, of course...), Chelsea became something of a relentless machine in their pursuit of the league. By no means were they attractive to watch many-a-time, but I have to admit that I was impressed by the way Maureen knitted together so many faces who were unacquainted with each other in such a short space of time, to produce a tight unit who were hard to beat and could produce the good again and again, regardless of how they performed.
Of course, during our many duels with ManYoo, we punched above our weight, in financial terms, competing with the richest club in Britain (at that time), and each league title won was all the sweeter as a result.
But it's fair to say it was between us and ManYoo for the title for those years. If we hadn't challenged, it would have been a cakewalk for the mancs most seasons, most probably.
Yet after the advent of Chelsea's new-found wealth, the goalposts shifted. ManYoo found it difficult to break their resilience, Chelsea just would not stop. And as a result, ManYoo had to raise their game.
And they did this last season.
Nowadays, if you want to win the title, you really cannot afford to have a two-or-three-game blip, at least not more than once. Pursuit of the Premier League is that much harder now, and it really is a 38 game exercise in concentration and application. The Mancs now seem to have had that ingrained in their game, and whilst we saw them languishing somewhat after the first few games, they have since clawed their way back into the frame, and will no doubt continue to exert a vice-like grip in attempting to retain their Premier crown. This is why it was so delightful to see them go down to that Anelka goal at Bolton the other week. A vital bit of breathing space afforded to us.
Chelsea, to much surprise, have not exhibited signs of collapse since Avram Grant took over, and Liverpool, following the Gillette-Hicks takeover and their big spending summer are (despite Benitez still keeping with his rotational policy which seems to sometimes hinder Liverpool more than benefit them) along with Arsenal the only other team unbeaten in the top flight and well within pouncing distance should the teams above them slip up.
As a result, whilst we sit on top of the table, we know that we cannot afford to switch off for a second. If we do, we know that the teams directly below us are just waiting to seize their chance and displace us.
Listen to the Arsenal players talk, and they take nothing for granted - they realise and recognise that they have achieved nothing yet and must continue to play every game as if their life depends on it. For if they want this title, they must show the most hunger to win it, for talent alone is not enough. Application and desire must also be at the forefront of a team's display too.
So all the while that we sit at the top of the table, this is much more of an achievement to be there than in past seasons, and if we win the title this season it will surely rank as a greater triumph than previous title-winning campaigns (not to belittle previous title-winning campaigns, and excluding the unbeaten season for that is, and always will be, the most majestic of achievements).
As I write this, we have just drawn our game in hand against Newcastle, some of us might be a bit gutted about this seeing as we could have gone six points clear, and we took the lead. But contrast this with this time last year, where we would have been approaching this game with a high amount of trepidation. This time out, I reckon all Gooners fancied us to go there and come away with all three points. And this with a team shorn of Van Persie, Fabregas, Diaby, Flamini and Hleb (the last two of whom have been nothing short of revelatory this season, not so much for any increase in their talents, more so for the way they have applied them this campaign, switching many a fan's opinion of them and raising them to two of the first names on the team sheet on said supporters' eyes).
The team, without a shadow of a doubt, have grown into a great united force. I think that, without the bar being raised in the past two to three seasons, we might not be seeing them raising themselves to such potential heights. And should this young Arsenal team continue to grow further, and become the force that an increasing number of pundits speculate they may, we could well have cause to raise a cheeky glass to Chelski, and thank them for helping to play their part in creating this team, for without their contribution, who is to say that this group of players would have needed to raise their level of playing to such heights? Let us hope that come May, this is the case...