All Arsenal want to do is finish above Spurs, says Szczesny
One year and 10 days after their famous defeat of Barcelona, Arsenal finally produced something to match it at the Emirates last Sunday afternoon.
In the immediate afterglow of their 5-2 victory over Spurs, Wojciech Szczesny described it as "comparable" to that Champions League first-leg win and few would have quibbled.
The opponents might not have been quite as strong as the eventual Spanish and European champions – although Tottenham are no mean side – but the result was at least as surprising, and much more emphatic.
Last year's defeat of Barcelona proved Arsenal's peak for the season. They had taken 21 points from nine league games since Christmas, lifting them to second place in the Premier League, just four points behind Manchester United with 12 games left to play. They were still in the FA Cup. They were 11 days away from the League Cup final with Birmingham City; a date had been marked for the end of their trophy drought.
So it was an Arsenal side full of confidence who took on Barcelona. Robin van Persie scored their first goal, his 12th of 2011 in his 10th game: the start of the remarkable run he is still on. Jack Wilshere, Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri were all in excellent form, and it was they who combined to set up Andrei Arshavin for the winner.
It was a high point, but no one could have predicted how far Arsenal would drop. The traumatic Carling Cup final defeat – one highly eventful year ago now – led to a collapse in the league, and exits from the Champions League and FA Cup. Then the summer of player exits, the 8-2 defeat at Old Trafford, the faltering form and then the San Siro lesson.
So Arsenal went into Sunday's derby with the opposite of last February's optimism. Of the four players involved in Arshavin's winner, Wilshere is the only one still at the club, and he has not played all season. Van Persie has maintained that form, but has been a lone beacon of excellence this season.
All told, then, to overturn a 2-0 deficit, to overrun their fiercest rivals like they did and win 5-2 was quite something. "It is a great feeling, probably one of the best I have ever had," Szczesny said. "It is brilliant, I was buzzing. Every single goal felt better than the previous one. I was celebrating quite energetically ... but I loved it. For me as an Arsenal fan to beat Tottenham – it is the first time I have beaten them as well – it is just great."
Whether it was Arsenal's finest moment since that Barcelona win is an academic point – whether it can end this horrible 12 months and launch something better is anything but. Szczesny is typically confident.
"The last two games at home, we have scored 12 goals. It just shows you what we can do when we are on the front foot and we can really go for it. Hopefully, we can learn from that and repeat it all over again," the Polish goalkeeper said.
Szczesny has a particular rapport with the fans and was delighted for their sake after an obviously difficult few months. There have certainly not been many results more gratefully received by the home fans in recent years. "You could see that once we started playing well, the fans got behind us and gave us a lot of support," he said. "I am sure they enjoyed the game as well, so we are very pleased for them because we have let them down in the last couple of weeks. We needed that performance not only for us but for them as well."
Szczesny added that he had no inside track regarding the future of Van Persie but said that, while he is "personally confident" his captain will stay, Arsenal are "trying to make the most of it while he is here".
Arsenal's manager, Arsène Wenger, said in the aftermath of the match that the club could now catch Tottenham – and the Spurs midfielder Rafael van der Vaart admitted that "maybe the title [challenge] is over" and "third is our main goal".
Szczesny concluded: "After what we have done we believe we can challenge Tottenham. We are six or seven points behind them now and we have the momentum. I hope we can challenge them. I said ages ago that we can't realistically win the Premier League any more – now my main ambition is to finish above Tottenham."