Arsenal produced a rather remarkable comeback from two goals and a man down to snatch a point at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea on Tuesday. It makes a change most welcome to what we’ve been seeing lately – too often the Gunners were the ones to throw away leads and drop points from winning positions.
Striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, now the team captain, had just started serving his three-match ban after picking up a direct red card against Crystal Palace, when up pops a whole new problem of the same sort.
After Shkodran Mustafi once again showed why he isn’t top-six Premier League material, David Luiz was forced to do what he can to stop Tammy Abraham from scoring. Unfortunately, he took the Chelsea striker out in the process and the result was a penalty, later converted by Jorginho, and a red card for the Brazilian to go with it. Whether the red card was justified or not is beside the point at the moment, as there was no other course left open to Arsenal than to carry on to the best of their ability.
Opting not to waste a substitution so early in the game by introducing, for example, Rob Holding from the bench, manager Mikel Arteta chose to send Granit Xhaka one row back to slot in beside Mustafi. So at that point, the back line consisted of a fullback just back from cruciate ligament injury, a teenage winger on the other defensive flank, a centre-back of quality below the standard required, and a midfielder. On top of it all, Arsenal were already a goal down.
But Xhaka took this new situation on the chin, if nobody else did, and displayed exactly the kind of quality and leadership the Gunners have been crying for, for far too long. He commanded, he supported, he defended. He fought harder for the cause than you’d expect from a player who went through a difficult time, insulted the fans and reportedly agreed terms to move to another club.
The Swiss international has always had a relentless fighting spirit in him, and though it has been known to get him to do some stupid things and get into trouble, on this occasion it proved of more worth than gold. Was it the first step on the road to redemption?
Let’s wait and see.