MAYBE, just maybe, Arsenal can challenge for the title again.
By SHAUN CUSTIS
There have been a few false dawns as the Gunners trophy drought has stretched to seven years and you have to go back to the Invincibles of 2004 for their last Premier League success.
But there are signs that the soft under-belly has gone and there is a strength and a resilience about Arsene Wenger’s men to go with the flair.
Beating Southampton 6-1, as Arsenal did a week ago, told us nothing.
But getting a well-earned point, after Laurent Koscielny’s equaliser, at champions Manchester City does. As did beating Liverpool at Anfield three weeks ago.
City’s Etihad home is the Fort Knox of football.
In their march to the title last season they won 18 and drew one of their 19 home league games — only Sunderland managed to take a point.
You have to go back to December 2010 for City’s last home defeat in the Prem, against Everton.
So Arsenal could consider this a good effort and had Gervinho brought his shooting boots with him, they would have returned to London with all three points instead of just the one.
The Ivorian got into plenty of decent positions but his finishing was atrocious and, on one occasion when he was clean through, his touch was so bad he virtually passed it to keeper Joe Hart.
Though City had led through Joleon Lescott’s 40th-minute header, they were a tired bunch by the end with Arsenal equalising through their own centre-back Koscielny eight minutes from time.
Perhaps the effect of that mentally-sapping late defeat at Real Madrid in the Champions League on Tuesday took its toll but Wenger’s men finished much the stronger.
The Gunners will take great confidence from this.
While Sergio Aguero forced a decent save out of the visitor’s No 3 keeper Vito Mannone, Arsenal were the more controlled team for much of the first half.
Aaron Ramsey, making his first start of the campaign, combined well with the excellent Santi Cazorla and skipper Mikel Arteta while Abou Diaby again showed his quality and calmness on the ball.
Meanwhile City’s holding players, Yaya Toure and Javi Garcia, were being over-run.
Ramsey’s superb through-ball to Gervinho opened up City but his horrible touch meant the opportunity came to nothing.
Then Lukas Podolski fired high over the bar after full-back Carl Jenkinson wrestled his way through.
Gael Clichy, once of Arsenal, also came to the hosts’ rescue with a cracking tackle on Gervinho which had to be perfectly timed otherwise he would have conceded a penalty.
Gervinho shot into the side- netting and it was all Arsenal.
Yet it was City who scored against the run of play.
Kieran Gibbs carelessly conceded a corner and, from the David Silva centre, Mannone flapped in no-man’s land allowing Lescott to climb above Koscielny and Podolski to head in.
City boss Roberto Mancini was not happy though and withdrew Scott Sinclair at the break, bringing on Jack Rodwell to add more security in central midfield.
The home team improved and Toure was able to get further forward, putting Arsenal on the back foot.
Aguero came to life and was not far away with a volley from a tight angle which fizzed over. He was also pleading for a penalty, claiming he had been clipped by Koscielny before his stumbling shot was blocked by Gibbs.
It would have been a harsh one had ref Mike Dean given it.
Gervinho just could not get it right. Presented with a chance from 12 yards he sliced wide and comically brought down his own player Ramsey as Arsenal attacked.
Strangely, Gervinho stayed on while Podolski made way for Theo Walcott to have a run at the City defence.
Walcott instantly looked sharp and Arsenal got the equaliser they deserved after Cazorla’s 25-yard strike was brilliantly pushed over by Hart.
The Spaniard took the corner and Lescott tried to head it away but the ball dropped straight at the feet of Koscielny who rifled a shot into the roof of the net.
Arsenal pushed hard for the winner and City were having to dig deep to keep them out.
But they did have a chance as captain Vincent Kompany’s overhead kick was pushed away by Mannone and Koscielny then tried to clear the visitors’ lines.
The French defender smashed it at Aguero, who was taken by surprise, and his snap-shot went beyond the far post.
Right on full-time Gervinho was free again and worked an opening on the edge of the area.
But, given the afternoon he was having, it was the safest bet of the day that his shot would finish high in the stands.
As the final whistle blew, Mancini shoved his late sub Mario Balotelli down the tunnel for reasons which the manager could not, or would not, explain afterwards.
Had a frustrated Wenger done the same to Gervinho it would have required no explanation at all.
STAR MAN — SANTI CAZORLA (Arsenal)
MAN CITY: Hart 6, Zabaleta 6, Kompany 6, Lescott 5, Clichy 5, Javi Garcia 5, Y Toure 6, Silva 6, Sinclair 5 (Rodwell 6), Aguero 6 (Balotelli 5), Dzeko 6 (Tevez 5). Subs not used: pantilimon, Kolarov, Barry, Nastasic. Booked: Javi Garcia.
ARSENAL: Mannone 5, Jenkinson 6, Koscielny 7, Mertesacker 7, Gibbs 6, Ramsey 6, Diaby 6 (Giroud 5), Arteta 7, Cazorla 8, Gervinho 5 (Coquelin 5), Podolski 5 (Walcott 5). Subs not used: martinez, Andre Santos, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Djourou.