As Santi Cazorla scored Arsenal’s second goal last night, putting his team in front after they had been largely outplayed by Southampton, many among the Gunners traveling support must have thought whether it was a sign.
Perhaps, they might have thought, after eight trophy-less years and crumbling with impeccable regularity in the second half of the season, the Gunners’ current crop was capable to negotiate a tricky away fixture on a Tuesday night in January and still come out on top.
The illusion lasted 120 seconds, all it took for Adam Lallana to equalise as Southampton earned a deserved point, while Arsenal were left facing the prospect of having their place at the top of the table usurped for the first time since the third week of September.
Should Manchester City and Chelsea win tonight, Arsene Wenger’s men would find themselves third, having to chase after having been chased for so long.
A draw away at Southampton is far from being a crisis-sparking result, but it highlighted yet again how desperate Arsenal are for a striker capable of lift the pressure off Olivier Giroud’s shoulders.
The Frenchman found the net again last night, bagging his third goal in the last four Premier League matches but the Gunners’ over-reliance on him could hamper their quest to end the eight-year trophy drought.
Arsene Wenger courted Gonzalo Higuain and Luis Suarez over the summer, only to see Napoli sign the former Real Madrid man, while Arsenal’s clumsy attempt at triggering a mysterious release clause in Suarez’s contract only ensured that Liverpool will not do business with the North Londoners for a very long time.
Mesut Ozil’s arrival masqueraded the lack of alternatives to Giroud at Arsene Wenger’s disposal, but with the German struggling to recapture the form he showed earlier this season and Arsenal still competing on three fronts, the Gunners have spent January trying to bolster their striking options to no avail.
With teams unlikely to be willing to part ways with their strikers halfway through the season, things have been extremely complicated for Arsene Wenger, who has been trying to secure Real Madrid’s youngster Alvaro Morata on loan.
Morata is undoubtedly a fine player and one with a bright future ahead, but would he be what the Gunners need between now and May?
Arsenal’s lack of suitable replacements up-front is exacerbated by having their second and third-most prolific player sidelined, with Aaron Ramsey suffering a setback and Theo Walcott out for the rest of the season, while Nicklas Bendtner remains, well, Nicklas Bendtner.
As games come thick and fast from January until the end of the season, history shows that fortune favours teams boasting strikers who need just one chance to decide a game, a luxury Arsenal, apart from Giroud, don’t possess.
Last season, Robin Van Persie netted 12 league goals from the turn of the year with Wayne Rooney adding five, despite his feud with Sir Alex Ferguson.
Three years earlier, the United striker found the net nine times between January and May, including the hat-trick that rescued his side when 2-0 down at West Ham and the penalty that clinched the title away at Blackburn.
Rooney, however, wasn’t United’s only resource as over the same number of games Javie Hernandez score eight times, two less than Sergio Aguero did in the 2011-12 season, as Manchester City won the league in dramatic fashion.
City’s plethora of strikers proved crucial in clawing back United’s eight-point lead, with Edin Dzeko and Carlos Tevez scoring four goals each since the turn of the year, while Mario Balotelli added five of his own.
Arsenal’s pursuit of Julian Draxler might still reach a successful end, but with fixtures against Liverpool – twice – Bayern Munich – twice – Manchester United, Spurs, Chelsea and Manchester City Arsenal are going to need goals.
Either that or their fans will have to wait another year to celebrate a trophy.