Arsenal revival driven by grit as well as guile
After crumbling at the first sign of pressure far too often in recent years, Arsenal are finally showing signs of developing a steely spine and Theo Walcott is the unlikely standard bearer.
Arsene Wenger's side have been guilty of squandering numerous chances to mount Premier League title challenges and go deep into the Champions League due in a large part to a woeful lack of backbone.
Yet Saturday's 3-2 win over Swansea at the Emirates Stadium was the latest sign of a more resolute nature taking hold among Wenger's squad.
With Bulgarian minnows Ludogorets visiting north London on Wednesday, Arsenal have an opportunity to show their attacking talents, but it was the way they dug deep to see off Swansea that was more encouraging for Gunners winger Walcott.
Walcott scored twice in the first half against Swansea before Mesut Ozil's goal put them 3-1 ahead in the 57th minute.
However, Swansea reduced the deficit and Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka was sent off moments later to leave the hosts forced to play the last 20 minutes with 10 men.
It was the kind of perilous situation that may well have induced a fatal wobble from Arsenal in the past, but Wenger's men battened down the hatches and, with Walcott working tireless along across the forward line, they managed to hold on for a victory that moved them level on points with leaders Manchester City.
Since the glory days of Wenger's 2003-04 'Invincibles', who won the Premier League without losing a single match, the ability to produce that kind of gritty performance has been missing from Arsenal's mental make-up.
- Matured -
But Walcott, in the past a fragile underachiever himself, feels the Swansea result and a late win at Burnley in their previous match, provide proof the current group has matured and is ready to challenge for honours.
Asked if Arsenal now had a new mentality, Walcott said: "The Burnley game, they were very well organised and we found it very difficult. But we all stuck in, showed patience and in time we got the win which was really important.
"Again against Swansea, we had to be diligent, be patient at times... but we still got the win even if it would have been nice to take the ball home on a personal note. But that's not the case.
"The Burnley match was a game where we had to grind it out. This game, when we went down to 10 men, we tend to lose, to be honest. There's some things that are slowly getting better.
"I don't look at the table. I genuinely don't. I feel all we can do is control ourselves and not really hope that other teams get results on our behalf. We can only control ourselves, if we play well we win games and that's all we can do.
"We've been in this situation (top of the table) before. We started off this season before than we have recently. There's always some sort of blip but hopefully we're not going to have that this year.
"With the squad we have, if we keep players fit, with players coming back, then who knows... You can't really call the Premier League this year. It's so unpredictable."
Walcott is now just eight away from a century of goals for the Gunners, but he would gladly sacrifice personal glory for team success.
"It would be nice to reach 100 goals, obviously," he said. "It's a long season ahead. I'd be very disappointed if I don't make that
"But then again I'd rather the team performs and we win something rather than a personal goal."
© 2016 AFP