Arsène Wenger was relaxed and smiling as he entered the Anfield media room for his post-match press conference, just moments after Joe Allen’s 90th-minute goal for Liverpool on Wednesday evening had denied his Arsenal team a potentially crucial victory in their quest to win the Premier League title.
While Olivier Giroud spoke of “hopefully not regretting this goal at the end of the championship,” Wenger instead chose to focus on the positives – the “character of my team” and the “fight” they displayed to twice overturn a Liverpool lead and then move 3-2 ahead until Allen salvaged a point for Jürgen Klopp’s team.
During a midweek programme that delivered more evidence of the unpredictable nature of this season’s Premier League campaign, Arsenal’s failure to claim victory at Anfield may have initially been dismissed as proof of their inability to go the whole distance in the title race.
But Wenger was right to come away buoyed by his team’s performance because this draw may ultimately prove to be the result which confirms Arsenal’s credentials rather than diminishes them.
Anfield, a venue which is a test for all potential champions, posed questions of Arsenal’s resilience as well as their flair and the visitors passed both.
It snowed, it rained, the wind blew the ball in all four directions, but the supposedly flaky characters of Arsenal stood up to it. Mesut Özil was quiet, but he still embraced the challenge, made important contributions at the right time and did not go missing as he sometimes has away from the Emirates in the past.
Giroud displayed the confidence of a centre-forward who now knows his worth, Theo Walcott hurt Liverpool with his pace, but also showed greater awareness in his game, while Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny performed like the best central defensive unit in the league.
So all of a sudden, Arsenal possess the crucial title-winning spine that they have lacked for over a decade – a proven goalkeeper, a solid defence, energy and flair in midfield and reliable strikers.
They also have quality waiting to return. Alexis Sanchez may be fit to be involved at Stoke on Sunday, while Jack Wilshere, Danny Welbeck and numerous others will all come back fit and fresh for the run-in. Today, they completed the signing of midfielder Mohamed Elneny from Swiss club Basle.
Arsenal do have their flaws, but this is a title race without an outstanding team and one which sees Leicester City facing Aston Villa at the weekend with a golden chance of claiming top spot before Wenger’s team visit the Britannia Stadium.
Stoke is a perennial hazard for Arsenal, the venue which in the past has exposed the weaknesses, both physical and psychological, which have cost Wenger’s team titles since the Invincibles of 2004.
But if they emerge unbeaten from that one, they go into next Sunday’s encounter with Chelsea at the Emirates as firm title favourites.