Should Arsenal end the season with a ticket to the Champions League jamboree in their hands for a record 16th year running, they may look back on one night in Munich as a turning point.
Arsène Wenger’s side went to their last-16 second leg against Bayern Munich trailing 3-1 and, moreover, still smarting from a derby defeat by Tottenham which had left them seven points behind their north London neighbours. They returned eliminated from Europe but with self-belief restored by a 2-0 victory which has sparked a winning sequence that was stretched to four games on Saturday by Tomas Rosicky’s double in a 2-1 success at West Bromwich Albion.
Reflecting on an upturn which has made a Champions League return more likely, Rosicky said: “When we lost to Tottenham, they took their chances. We did two stupid mistakes and were punished for it. We tried to correct it. And you could see the improvement in Munich. It was much better. We know what our problems are and we’re trying to solve it.”
Given that only Manchester United have taken more points from the last seven matches, it seems these solutions are working. Rosicky’s first league goals in 14 months secured a win on Saturday that owed much to qualities not normally associated with this Arsenal – defensive resilience and sheer guts in the face of West Brom’s late onslaught after Per Mertesacker’s dismissal. “It always gives you confidence when you win in Munich and when you have such a difficult game today, where in the last 20 minutes, we’ve got our backs against the wall, it gives you a big lift,” added Rosicky. “It’s a great win for us.”
With Jack Wilshere due back for the upcoming home fixtures against Norwich and Everton, Spurs fans could be forgiven a sense of déjà-vu with Arsenal now just two points behind them with a game in hand. However, Wenger insisted he was not worrying about his rivals – “What is important is that we look at [ourselves], win our games and do not expect any weaknesses from our opponents” – though he did admit it was “a little advantage” that his team do not have the European distractions of Tottenham and Chelsea, which in Spurs’ case have cost them dearly with Gareth Bale’s injury.
The sense that everything is coming together at the right time for Arsenal was only enhanced by the impact of Rosicky in his second league start of 2012-13. Wenger said: “[He’s had] the problem with injury, [and] competition for a place with Wilshere and [Santi] Cazorla, but he’s such an important player who turns the game, brings movement, makes the game look simple. You always feel when he has the ball that something can happen, and not many players have that.”
Bookings: West Brom Jones, Ridgewell. Arsenal Ramsey, Rosicky, Koscielny, Arteta.
Sent off: Mertesacker (70).
Man of the match Rosicky.
Match rating 7/10.
Possession: West Brom 52%. Arsenal 48%.
Attempts on target: West Brom 5. Arsenal 6.
Referee H Webb (South Yorkshire).