Arsenal revive Invincibles mentality with toughest test passed in title pursuit

 (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
(Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

In the summer of 2019, Arsenal’s sporting director Edu vowed to revive the club’s Invincibles mentality.

It has taken more than three years but, on the evidence of this win, Arsenal have the relentless drive required to win their first title since that famous Arsene Wenger side of 2003-04.

The Gunners might not be able to go unbeaten, but they will take some stopping. Now at the midway point of their season, they have already amassed 50 points, becoming only the fourth team in Premier League history to do so.

Eddie Nketiah’s last-minute winner gave them victory against Manchester United and sparked the wildest celebrations at Emirates Stadium since it was opened in 2006.

There was a cry of “vamos”, as Mikel Arteta and his coaching staff embraced. The injured Gabriel Jesus ran onto the pitch and found his old Manchester City team- mate Oleksandr Zinchenko, bumping chests with him. The summer signings have won eight Premier League titles between them and yet still they got carried away on Sunday.

Wild celebrations: Arsenal’s win over Manchester United had the Emirates Stadium rocking (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
Wild celebrations: Arsenal’s win over Manchester United had the Emirates Stadium rocking (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

The euphoria extended to the stands, where supporters revelled in another statement win. And who can blame them? Arsenal are five points clear at the top of the table, and with a game in hand on second-placed Manchester City.

The tests keep coming forArteta’s young side, but so far they are passing them with flying colours. This latest examination against Manchester United was arguably their toughest yet. City had put the pressure on before kick-off, beating Wolves 3-0 to close to within two points.

Arsenal had to respond, and standing in their way was the only team to beat them in the Premier League this season. That defeat came in September, but Arsenal are a different team now. They let the emotions get the better of them at Old Trafford, falling to a 3-1 defeat when the game had been finely balanced at 1-1 with 30 minutes to go.

The Gunners were in a similar situation on Sunday at 2-2, but this time they did not collapse. Instead, they hunted down the winning goal in the way that champions do.

“If you are not intelligent enough to know what the game requires, you are going to lose it,” said Arteta. “We did the opposite. We got better, and better and better.”

The tests keep coming forArteta’s young Arsenal side, but so far they are passing them with flying colours

The transformation in Arsenal’s mentality is everywhere you look. Three times they have gone behind at home in the League this season, but every time they have roared back to win. The last time the Gunners managed that was in 2006.

They went 1-0 down against United, after Marcus Rashford’s brilliant strike from outside the box put the visitors in front, but the response was instant.

Fans rose from their seats and urged the team on. Captain Martin Odegaard waved his arms to cajole his team-mates. On the sidelines, Arteta clapped his hands and called for more.

As has been the case this season, Arteta got the reaction he wanted and, seven minutes after Rashford’s opener, Nketiah had headed Arsenal level. The game took the rhythm of a basketball match and the watching Sir Alex Ferguson must have seen similarities between the great matches of old between these two rivals.

Bukayo Saka, who underlined the Gunners’ relentless nature by running at Luke Shaw all game, fired Arsenal ahead after the break, but this time it was United who hit back quickly, as Lisandro Martinez looped a header into the net when Aaron Ramsdale spilled a corner.

At that stage, you wondered if both sides would settle for a point. United certainly seemed like they were happy with one, bringing on Fred for Antony, but Arsenal were not, and Arteta threw on new signing Leandro Trossard.

He had a hand in the winner, playing the ball out wide to Zinchenko, who crossed for Odegaard. His shot was scuffed, but Nketiah flicked home. The Emirates went wild and, after a lengthy VAR check, the noise level went up another notch when the goal was confirmed.

There is a swell of momentum behind Arsenal and it is why Arteta will be tempted to name a strong team for Friday night’s FA Cup fourth-round tie at City. The two will meet in the League on February 15, but winning this week would be a huge shot in the arm, as Arsenal bid to go the distance in this title race.