Two quick goals. An opponent set on shooting themselves in the foot. Some lovely free-flowing moves. The crowd in fine voice. The sun shining.
For a brief moment, Arsenal seemed to have the hang of this football lark.
Then, bit by bit, the nerves crept in. Chances were missed and what should have been a stroll in the park turned into a horrible nerve-shredding second half.
Leeds United, down to 10 men from the 27th minute, grabbed a goal out of nothing which ensured the closing stages of the game were soundtracked by panic on the terraces as the crowd desperately tried to rouse the players from sleepwalking their way to a damaging draw.
By the full time whistle, everybody was in a bit of a daze. It took a few moments for the 2-1 win to sink in.
Playing it cool in his post-game press conference, Mikel Arteta said, “Some nerves had to be handled.”
While accepting the circumstances nearly got the better of his players, the manager was very pleased that they continue to grind out important results given everything that is at stake.
“We are finding ways to win football matches,” he said. “The way we played today, especially the first 30 minutes was brilliant.
“So under pressure to play the way we have done in front of our people is a credit to them, but obviously, we have an opponent and the context changes throughout the game and you don’t expect to be all the time for 95 minutes on top of the game and we are dealing with that and getting better at is because at the end, we are winning football matches.”
Arteta also dismissed suggestions his players took their foot off the gas with one eye on Thursday’s north London derby.
“I don’t think so, it was just to try to play the game that we have to play in that phase, I think we showed a lot of maturity not to rush things and start to concede breaks, we didn’t do any of that, but then we didn’t find the net in key moments to score the third goal and have a different last 20 minutes.”
He also referenced Manchester City’s late collapse, at the hands of Real Madrid, in the semi-final of the Champions League as an example of what can happen to even the best teams when the pressures cranks up.
“This is football, if you look at what happened a few days ago in Madrid, there are things that nobody can explain but this is the beauty of this match, and suffering unfortunately for all of us, especially for the managers, it’s part of it.
He added: “Now is the defining moment when a goal can change the whole season, and that plays in the back of the players but I didn’t see any of that at the start of the game.”
Arsenal now have a four-point lead over Sp*rs and know a win on Thursday will secure a place in the Champions League. It would be a Hollywood ending for the Amazon documentary that is currently being filmed.
Of the opportunity that lies ahead, Arteta said: “We want to prepare and go for that match like we always do, with the same enthusiasm, but knowing obviously that this can be a defining moment and that’s an extra level of motivation and another layer for us to really go for it and I can’t wait to play that game.”