A fifth consecutive Premier League win at Burnley saw Arsenal into the international break with spirits soaring and belief reinvigorated after a sluggish start – but how are they shaping up compared to the opening seven games of last season?
As with this season, Arsenal opened their 2015 campaign with a moral-sapping defeat, as West Ham collected a surprise 2-0 win at the Emirates to put a big red blotch on what many hoped would be a positive start to our title challenge.
And though poor starts are fast becoming something of an Arsenal trademark, in both this season and last, the team have bounced back quickly to put some points on the board.
As things stand, the Gunners find themselves three points better off in this campaign than at the same stage last year – with 16 points on the board after seven games compared to 13 at the same stage in 2015.
In terms of results, we’d experienced two defeats, managed a draw, and won four games in 2015. This time around, we have a defeat, a draw, and five wins to our name.
The obvious difference between the two campaigns has been our contrasting fortunes in matches against Chelsea.
In 2015/16 we were on the end of a 2-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge, a match which left an especially bitter taste after a double red card saw the team finish the match with nine men.
There was no repeat this season, though, as Arsenal trounced Antonio Conte’s side 3-0 at the Emirates – a performance that ranked among the best seen by home fans in recent years.
In the grand scheme of things, three points is hardly a revelatory improvement, or even particularly significant, but it is arguably the result of a much more telling step-up in Arsenal’s game – their attacking efficiency.
By this stage in 2015, the team had created 115 chances, averaged 57 per cent possession and scored 10 goals.
This season, Arsenal have created just 77 chances and averaged 55 per cent possession but have 16 goals to show for their efforts.
As Leicester City memorably showed last year, efficiency in front of goal can be absolutely vital to winning matches, and it appears to be a lesson Arsenal are learning.
In fact, Arsenal haven’t scored as many goals in the opening seven league games of a season for at least five years. (2014/15: 11, 2013/14: 14, 2012/13: 13).
Arsene Wenger spoke at length last season and, indeed, in pre-season, about our need to be more efficient in the final third and we can certainly argue the case for the message having started to sink in at least.
That’s not to say that we haven’t been profligate at times, against Burnley and Basel we had a handful of really very presentable chances that were squandered. Fortunately, the misses didn’t prove to be costly but it is a reminder that we must become more ruthless in our conversion of chances – something we suffered badly with in the second half of the last campaign.
Also worthy of note is the number of set piece goals we have managed so far this season, a heartening five. At the same point last year, we had scored just two set piece goals and it was the same after seven games in 2014/15.
For the best part of 10 years we have failed to be a real and consistent threat from set pieces.
Robin van Persie and Lucas Podolski were certainly capable with the dead ball, but in terms of corners and free-kicks not in scoring range, we haven’t posed a serious threat to teams in an age.
Perhaps our healthy start on that front is also symptomatic of a shift in the way we got about our game. Perhaps it is something we have been working on at London Colney, in a bid to iron out the creases in our all round game.
Whatever the reason behind it, there is no denying that the end result is a well-oiled machine of a team that is both efficient in attack and much-improved in defence.
Last year, the team went on a four-match winning streak after the international break and really set down a marker. If we can come close to matching that, particularly given the matches we have coming up, we will find ourselves in a promising position come the beginning of November.