Arsene Wenger insists Arsenal’s hard-fought 1-0 win over north London rivals Tottenham proves they won’t crack under the strain of the Premier League title race.
Wenger’s side have often been accused of lacking the mental strength and physical power to survive the gruelling battle for supremacy at the top of the table.
There has never been any questioning the Gunners’ technical ability and that class was clear for all to see as Czech midfielder Tomas Rosicky took just 72 seconds to open the scoring at White Hart Lane on Sunday with a sublime half-volley from an acute angle.
But Wenger’s players spent the remaining 88 minutes engaged in the kind of trench warfare from which they rarely seem to emerge unscathed.
This time it was different.
Arsenal centre-backs Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker subdued fired-up former Gunners striker Emmanuel Adebayor, while the rest of their team-mates threw themselves into the fray with abandon.
“The two centre-backs were exceptional. I think they are one of the best partnerships in the country,” Wenger said.
“Today we had to be tough because Adebayor was sharp like he always is against us. We needed a good defensive performance and we got it from Mertesacker and Koscielny.
“Mentally in the last three games against Everton, Bayern and Tottenham, we have had to be absolutely focused and that is where our defenders have done very well. They kept their focus for 90 minutes.
“In the dressing room now you can see it means a lot. We had a disappointing result against Stoke and that was still in our minds. To stay in the race it was vital to win here.”
By the time the dust had settled on the 999th match of Wenger’s Arsenal reign, the Gunners were firmly back in the title shake-up.
They trail leaders Chelsea by just four points, with a game in hand, and a titanic showdown with Jose Mourinho’s men looms at Stamford Bridge next weekend.
And Wenger acknowledged Rosicky’s brilliant strike had set the stage for one of the most important games of the season.
“It will go in my collection of great goals, I told Tomas that,” Wenger said.
“It gets us a bit closer to Chelsea and makes the game next week even more interesting.
“It is a four point gap and we have a game in hand. We will see what happens but the next game is a very big one.”
While Arsenal have renewed hope of a first league title since 2004, fifth placed Tottenham were left to rue a lack of cutting edge as they suffered a third defeat at the hands of their hated neighbours this season.
There were few dissenting voices when boss Tim Sherwood claimed his side deserved at least a point from a strong showing that saw them dominate possession and have 17 shots to Arsenal’s seven.
But Sherwood conceded their bid to qualify for the Champions League looks destined to end in failure.
“I think it was difficult (to make the top four) anyway,” he said.
“I’m a winner, I want to win every match, but anyone who has seen this game knows we didn’t deserve to lose.
“This was always going to be a tough period for us but there’s no crisis.”
Just three months after taking over from Andre Villas-Boas, Sherwood has had to endure mounting speculation that he could be replaced in the close-season.
But he believes the club’s chairman Daniel Levy needs to have more realistic expectations about Tottenham’s ability to compete with the league’s superpowers.
“Liverpool are a great example. In Brendan Rodgers’ first season they finished seventh, but look at them now, challenging for the title,” Sherwood said.
“It is a building process and requires patience. Whether that is something Tottenham want to do and whether they think I’m the person to rebuild it I don’t know.