Group hug as streak reaches 13

Posted by Sam Limbert

David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty ImagesArsene Wenger's unflappability has paid off again for the Gunners

In a season that has felt fraught with danger, it was both reassuring and enjoyable to see Arsenal progress from their Champions League group with a game to spare. With Chelsea and Manchester City either struggling in - or going out of - the competition, it is a testament again to Arsene Wenger and Arsenal the club have made it through the first group stage of the competition for 13 years in a row.

It’s important to note such a record doesn’t fully compensate for the lack of a trophy, and people are still entitled to criticise the manager for not winning one of those recently. But the 13 years of consecutively making it through to the last 16 is an impressive achievement that is worth praising. In a time of much change for the club both in personnel on the pitch, and with the stadium move, to continually be in the latter stages of the biggest club competition in Europe is to be commended.

This model of consistency has been further emphasised by Roberto Di Matteo’s sacking at Chelsea. While the Arsenal board shouldn’t just accept mediocrity and not properly challenging for major trophies, it's risky to make a snap decision and sack a manager after a poor run of form. Generally, Wenger has recovered from bad spells, shown by the impressive Champions League record.

The challenge is to convert one of these qualifications into the trophy. While Arsenal haven't been in scintillating form in the Champions League this season, the possibility remains. Trophies can’t be won at this stage of the season, but as Manchester City and Chelsea have shown in Europe, they can be lost. It'd be better if Arsenal can top the group; however, last season proved there can be some big teams lurking even if you finish first so there isn’t always a huge advantage.

The Montpellier match was much more low-key compared to the North London derby. In truth, it was always going to be. There seemed to be a mental and physical hangover from the high of Saturday's win over Spurs, and the team's fluency wasn't great in the first half. However, the confidence gained from the derby meant Arsenal’s heads didn’t drop when things weren’t going their way. When chances did come in the second half, Arsenal didn’t shy away and weren’t tentative around the box, something that has been all too common this season.

Jack Wilshere’s finish was assured after Olivier Giroud’s excellent header down, and hopefully it’s a sign his integration into the team is almost complete. In the lineup that started Wednesday, Wilshere hadn’t played with any of the other midfielders and front three before returning from injury, so while there is still time to develop his understanding with those around him, it’s a sign of how good a player he is to slot into the team as well as he has.

Lukas Podolski’s goal was another one that emphasised the growing confidence of the whole team. I doubt Giroud would have been played that perfect chipped pass earlier in the season, and that Podolski would have felt confident enough to hit the ball first time. Both have grown into the team and combined to score a stunning goal.

That match would only have seen a better goal than Podolski's screamer had Per Mertesacker’s sidestep and dribble in the first half resulted in the big centre back scoring. Even he has gained confidence when attacking after his North London derby goal.

There is still plenty of room for improvement in this Arsenal team. But before the derby, this week had the potential to be defining for the season in a negative way. Two wins later and the Gooner world feels a lot better. Some of the headlines have been diverted from from Arsenal, and that’s not bad thing as Wenger's quiet consistency can help lead the team's recovery this season.

Sam Limbert is a lifelong Arsenal fan and has been lucky enough to watch the team across England and Europe. He is also a contributor to onlinegooner podcasts

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