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Mental Resilience or Something More Valuable? What Arsenal Really Showed Us During Man United Draw

23/11/2016 13:08
Nick Potts/PA Archive

Arsene Wenger will have left Old Trafford on Saturday afternoon with mixed feelings after his side snatched a late draw.

Arsenal's performance was peculiar to say the least. Having headed into the match as slight favourites, they struggled for any fluency and looked bereft of ideas for much of the game.

The fact they scored with their only effort on target just about sums up the feeling that Arsenal 'got out of jail'.

Speaking after the game, Wenger suggested it was mental toughness that helped the Gunners muster a point. He argued that his team had added steel this year and that they would have lost the match 1-0 if it was last year.

It's hard to argue with the Frenchman, The hallmark of a good team is being able to win points even when they aren't playing well. The very fact that they seemed destined for yet another Old Trafford defeat means that it was very much a point gained on Saturday.

Some have criticised Arsenal for their performance and a perceived lack of ambition. Wenger himself was rather honest when he admitted that during the contest, he had considered whether his players suffered a mental block when they play at the Theatre of Dreams.

Clearly the international break played a factor as well, but the Gunners were a shadow of the side we are so used to seeing.

For much of the match it looked like it was simply same old Arsenal. Freezing on the big stage and blowing the chance to beat an under-strength title rival.

That rather begs the question: did they really display an inner steel or was it simply pot luck?

The answer could well be neither. In fact, what Wenger and Arsenal fans should be delighted with, is the strength of the substitutes bench, which was the key to them restoring parity in the dying moments.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's brilliant run and cross was powered into the net by a fantastic header from Olivier Giroud.

Both players have spoken of their frustration at limited playing time this season but came off the bench to remind the manager of their qualities, whilst also bailing their teammates out in the process.

Say what you will about Giroud, but his recent record has been particularly impressive. He also came off the bench in Arsenal's last away match to get them out of trouble, scoring twice in the 4-1 win over Sunderland.

Whilst he may not enjoy being labelled something of a super sub, the mere fact that Wenger can call on his striker to make an impact as a substitute is proving vital.

Alexis Sanchez looked weary against United and perhaps needs to be rested in midweek against Paris Saint-Germain, which would allow Giroud a rare start.

Many have stated that the Frenchman is not good enough to lead the Gunners to the title and although that may be true, he certainly is a great back up option for Wenger. If Arsenal's passing game is lacklustre, like it was against United, then a suitable plan B is ready to be unleashed from the bench.

After years of struggling with injuries and an unreliable squad, Wenger's team have something much more important than mental toughness.

They have a group big enough and strong enough to produce in those key moments. The jury will still be out on whether they can seriously challenge for the Premier League crown this year and the Christmas period may well make the picture clearer.

But if nothing else, then the draw at Old Trafford showed us this Arsenal side have a variety of options to choose from and can adapt when the going gets tough.

And that is something we haven't seen from the North Londoners before.

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